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Friday, March 07, 2008

Top 5 Friday: My Favorite Favorite Female Voices of Alternative Rock

Let's face it, the women of the music world are sometimes overlooked in favor of their more popular counterparts. When you get into a genre like Alternative Rock, as we are this month, it's the men that come immediately to mind. I'll be honest, it took me a few minutes to come up with a list of women in Alternative Rock that I even liked. I'm slightly disappointed by this, but I do think I came up with some gems.

5. Sleater Kinney: Are they Indie? Are they Alternative? Some people have them on one list, some people on the other, and a few have them on both. Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein broke up with the bands they were in (which are so unnotable I don't even know what they are) and formed Sleater Kinney in 1995. They put out 7 albums in 10 years and are no longer a group. That's pretty much all I know about them. I admit, I am not the biggest Sleater Kinney fan in the world. They've always been a take it or leave it kind of band for me. Seeing them live really helped bolster my opinion of them, though, so now every so often I find myself dragging out a few Sleater Kinney albums for things like house work and really angry painting sessions. Sometimes they fit into that need for angry girl music that isn't something like Tori Amos or Ani diFranco; something that's got a lot more of a rock edge to it. "All Hands On the Bad One" is a great album, but it's the single "Jumpers" from 2005's "The Woods" that makes me really happy. Writing this I realized what Sleater Kinney is for me: a female version of Rage Against the Machine. Only a little tamer.

4. Liz Phair: I remember when Liz Phair made a little bit of a mainstream splash when she released her album "Liz Phair" in 2003. I saw her on Letterman doing "Why Can't I?" and it just seemed to go downhill from there for her. She was no longer an Alternative darling for the media and was labeled as a sell out. That's what happens when you go with a production team, it seems, that puts out albums for people like Avril Lavigne and Hillary Duff. "Liz Phair" wasn't that great of an album, but if you go further back and dig out "whitechocolatespacegg" or "Exile in Guyville" you'll find some true pieces of art. "Polyester Bride", "Fuck and Run", "Gunshy", "Only Son", and "Go On Ahead" are my Liz Phair staples. She's bold, she's honest, and she's got a humorous approach to otherwise touchy subjects.

3. Siouxsee Sioux: Her name is really Janet. She helped form Siouxsee and the Banshees in 1976 and then broke them up, as many female lead singers are wont to do, in 1995. (And apparently got them back together for a reunion tour this year because reunion tours are big money.) But that wasn't before she netted herself some critical praise and put out nearly 15 albums. As a teenager, I was so in love with Siouxsee's voice and her look. The bright pink dresses coupled with the heavy black eyeliner and nail polish. The dyed dark black hair. And her voice...deep, sultry, commanding, dark. She sings as if she doesn't care what the world thinks of her and she does a cover of Iggy Pop's "The Passenger" that to this day sometimes still gives me goosebumps. (And does it far better than Iggy Pop ever did it.)

2. Dolores O'Riordan: After I submitted my list of my favorite Alternative Albums to Cale, like two days after it was made official, I was kicking myself for a glaring omission: The Cranberrie's "Everyone Else Is Doing It So Why Can't We?" I always forget about The Cranberries, even though "Zombie" pops up often on my iPod. (Is random really so random if it's playing the same 50 out of 14,000 songs?) The firs time I heard Dolores O'Riordan I said "Wow. Her voice kicks ass" and that's a sentiment I hold to this day. She's got this distinctive voice that somehow never managed to lose the Irish accent the more she sang. She can screech with the best of them and she has the ability to draw you into her voice and keep you there until she's done with you. "Linger" is such a poetic song driven by her vocals and who doesn't love the chorus of "Zombie"? My favorite though, and always has been, is "Liar". Genius lyrics and you really get a taste of that amazing Irish accent.

1. Natalie Merchant:
There's a lot to be said about 10,000 Maniacs and that'll come at another time. This moment belongs to Natalie Merchant. I have a very vivid image of her live and this sums it up best: I should have just tacked her picture up on the wall and played her cd's on a loop. She doesn't move, she doesn't have much stage presence, and she just belts out one song after another. Oh. And in person, Natalie Merchant is so incredibly striking it's startling. If it weren't for the voice she has it would have been a total waste of money to see her live. She's got a voice like no other and she knows how to use it. There are songs like "San Andreas Fault" and "Ophelia" that have a very lullaby quality to them and when she sings about pioneer women moving across the country via covered wagon, her voice really puts you there. Natalie Merchant manages to tell a story with her lyrics and uses her voice to illustrate it. For me, Natalie Merchant can make me weepy, make me happy, and she never fails to make me want to hear more. Her voice is just so different that if you haven't sought her out, you really should. Natalie Merchant is an Alt Rock goddess and should not be ignored.

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