It is a much repeated mantra in articles regarding feminism and the music industry that six of the ten biggest selling albums released this milennium are by women. The theory goes that in a male dominated world that it’s pretty impressive that so many have reached the upper echelons of the music industry and are dining at the top table. Of course it shouldn’t matter at all whether they’re men or women but sadly in almost all other industries it does.
Whilst there’s no doubting that this is a good thing, what’s more unfortunate for poor Adele, Amy et al is that they share that top table with such woeful company. Yes it’s good to sell a lot of records, but nobody wants to be lumped in with James Blunt’s seminal “Back to Bedlam” or indeed anything by Dido!
Beyond that slightly flippant slagging off of mainstream musical plodders there’s a darker tale at the heart of all these albums. Not one of the top ten was produced by a female producer, in fact can anyone even name me a famous female music producer? Indeed a large number of the big selling albums are co-written, almost always by male co-writers. For all the outwardly impressive feminism on show behind the scenes the music industry remains a male dominated environment. Perhaps the success of female musicians makes this an altogether sadder tale, it’s as if we’re saying to young women, yes you can be a singer but don’t worry about writing or producing your own material, we’ve got someone who can do that for you, he’s nearly 70 and looks a lot like Pete Waterman.
It’s why in many ways the true triumph for the music industry, where women are concerned, is lower down the ladder. Because in the good news section we’re about to enter the girls are doing some bloody good stuff right now! Take last weeks NTM-NTY star Marissa Nadler. She wrote the entirety of July, and although on this latest album received some help with the production, she has self produced a number of her albums previously. Without the beautiful ability with a melody Stephanie Dosen possesses the Snowbird album would just be Simon Raymonde plodding about on a keyboard (no offence Simon sure it would still be lovely) And if it’s equality in it’s purest form you’re after look no further than Making Marks, 2 men, 2 women, shared vocal duties, they’re an example to bands everywhere.
With releases from the likes of Sharon Van Etten, Golden Fable and (finger crossed) Joanna Newsom later this year, it does indeed seem to be that 2014 is going to be an incredible year for incredible music from people who happen to be women…who’d have thought it eh?! Who knows someone good, be it male or female might even make it into the top ten biggest sellers list one day!
Talking of brilliant women…
25 year old, St Louis resident Angel Olsen is the song-writer, vocalist and main guitarist on show. Having done debut album “Half Way Home” all by herself, she’s joined on her latest record “Burn Your Fire For No Witness” by bass player Stewart Bronaugh and drummer Joshua Jaeger. The album’s produced by John Congleton, who’s worked with pretty much a who’s who of alternative music (check out his wikipedia page and go ooh at the number of great people he’s worked with)
Her debut album was the sort of minimalist folk number you’d expect from a Bonnie “Prince” Billy colaborator (if her voice sounds familiar you’ve probably heard the excellent Wolfroy Goes To Town) Her second album however takes the folk blueprint and puts it through a thrilling grunge filter. It comes across part Sharon Van Etten part Waxahatchee and, sonically at least, quite a bit like Nirvana’s unplugged record.
Angel’s form St Louis, Missouri. Home at one time or another to Tina Turner, Chuck Berry, Charlie Parker and, err, Akon. Mark Twain’s also from there and his books should give you a good idea of the kind of slab of America we’re looking at.
Debut album “Half Way Home” came out in 2012, and it’s follow up is out, well today! “Burn Your Fire For No Witness” is her debut release on the ever excellent Jagjaguwar having previously been with Bathetic Records.
Her beautiful voice is at once reassuringly lovely and intriguingly different. Her songwriting has gone from quiet little acoustic ditties to a grungey sound that suits her well and her guitar playing is consistently excellent. She also had the good sense to call a song “Unfucktheworld” which is excellent! She paints beautiful lyrical portraits that are all full of brooding sadness and also just a crack of hope here and there, so if you’re a fan of Sharon Van Etten (which you should be) you’re definitely in the right area. You also have to feel a touch sorry for her having to be the Ann Darrow to Will Oldham’s King Kong every night as he stalks the stage like a wonderfully talented Orangutan.
If like many you stumbled into Angel on the back of her work with the Bonnie Prince you might be shocked by this new grungy direction. Alternatively if you’re wanting her to be the new Courtney Love she’s far too good a singer for that! Either way stop being so precious, this is a wonderful album of Angel Olsen being, well, Angel Olsen!
Angel Olsen’s second album “Burn Your Fire For No Witness” is out now on Jagjaguwar, she plays Manchester’s Soup Kitchen on the 23rd of March and London’s Dingwalls on the 25th of March as part of a full european tour.