Seeing as we’re still in January (just) and the nominees for this year’s Choice Music Prize were announced exactly a fortnight ago, I thought it might be a good idea to include a run-down of my favourite album releases by female singer-songwriters in 2010 in this post for Nothing But The Girls(s). Kicking off this week’s feature is a lady who has been nominated for this year’s above-mentioned Choice Music Prize.
Cathy Davey- The Nameless
As one of Ireland’s lovliest and most talented female singer-songwriters, Cathy Davey has had a great 2010. Her third full-length album, The Nameless, was released in May with its first single, “Little Red” debuting on her MySpace Page. Davey’s song “Rescue” was used in the ABC TV series The Gates, her other track “Holy Moly” was played at the end of British thriller film The Disappearnance of Alice Creed, she was recently named as the face of the new Lexus hybrid and she was involved in efforts to raise funds in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. And, to top it all off, she recently appeared alongside folks like Lisa Hannigan, Neil Hannon and David O’Doherty at Turning Pirate’s Mixed Tape New Year’s Eve Party at Vicar Street- busy lady!
The Namless is an enchanting album filled with deliciously infectious and quirky pop tunes. The record includes the stunning track “Army of Tears”, which features a guest appearance by Villagers’ frontman Conor J. O’Brien, and one of 2010’s most popular Irish singles, “Little Red”, the video for which has been nominated for the Best Music Video gong at the inaugural Digital Socket Awards.
Marina and the Diamonds- The Family Jewels
Marina Lambrini Diamandis (now there’s a mouthful), better known by her stage name Marina and the Diamonds, released her debut full-length studio album The Family Jewels in February of last year. For anyone interested in random fact, “Marina and the Diamonds” consists of Diamandis’ first name and the translation of her surname which means “Diamonds” in Greek. According to Diamandis’ website, “The Diamonds” refers to her fans (“I’m Marina. You are the diamonds”) and not her backing band as many believe.
Stylistically speaking The Family Jewels is quite a diverse album; overall it is very much pop-sounding but has elements of glam-disco, girly punk, chartworthy electronica, a hint of indie, and even has some softer piano laments thrown in for good measure. Experimental and savvy it certainly is.
There are some great elements to the album; some lush and moody harmonies (“Numb”), atmospheric strings and trembling piano, yet it is still vibrant and ballsy in its delivery. “Hollywood”, with it’s killer chorus, “Mowgli’s Road” and “I Am Not a Robot” are clear standouts for their infectious sound and kooky undertones, and on first listen they reach out and grab your attention. “Obsessions”, more downplayed than Diamandis’ three aforementioned tracks, is a cracker and one of my favourite tracks on the album. With quirky keyboard and memorable lyrics it is a very clever track that grows on you almost immediately.
The Family Jewels is a pleasant surprise for anyone who thought that Marina and the Diamonds was just going to be another random art-pop lady to add to the fast growing pile. The 13-track album is high-energy ride with pretty impressive musical variety. Diamandis’ voice is very interesting indeed with its quirkily operatic power and impressive vibrato. All in all the album is attitude-crammed and a little bit eccentric, but deeply, deeply infectious. A great debut that could just make 2011 Diamandis’ for the taking.
Laura Veirs- July Flame
July Flame is the seventh album from Laura Veirs and showcases some of her finest work yet. The Portland-based singer-songwriter, whose style hovers somewhere between indie rock, country, and folk, manages to perfectly reflect a melancholy imagination by interweaving her beautiful and unique voice with some delicate instrumentation and glistening arrangements.
Although Veirs is hugely under-recognised in her field, true fans of the singer-songwriter will immediately respond to her richly textured sound and thought-provoking lyrics. An engaging listen. If you haven’t heard any of Veirs’ albums yet, July Flame is the perfect place to start.
Smoke Fairies- Through Low Light and Trees
Smoke Fairies are Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies, a folk-blues duo hailing from London, who in September of last year released their debut album, Through Low Light and Trees. The band, who took their name from the summer mist that collects in the hedgerows of their native Sussex, visited Ireland in December to play both St James’ Church in Dingle (as part of this year’s series of Other Voices) and Dublin’s Workman’s Club.
Through Low Light And Trees is an exquisitely shivery blend of alternative folk-rock and a more humid, bluesy brand of Americana, a sound both eerily ancient and thrillingly modern, with beautifully interlocking harmonies and guitar parts behind the spectral melodies. Through its 11 tracks the album smoulders with an honest and often painful emotional intimacy. It is beautifully crafted and heavily atmospheric, and signals great things to come for the fairy-like duo.
You can read the eloquent words of Smoke Fairies’ Katherine on last week’s Nothing But The Girl(s) post, where she spoke to me about the band’s sound, their debut album and the notion of home. Read it here.
And finally, a review of my favourite album by a female singer-songwriter in 2010, the stunning I Speak Because I Can by Laura Marling:
When I first heard Laura Marling’s debut album Alas I Cannot Swim, I was amazed that someone of such a young age could create such a fantastic album. The mature, thought-provoking lyrics, which showcased Marling’s ponderings on love and life, and the beautiful musical arrangements certainly made the young girl deserving of the Mercury nomination the album received. When Marling released her second album, I Speak Because I Can, in March of last year, she placed herself even more firmly in the folk genre and proved that she is more than worthy of all the praise she has been receiving since she frst emerged onto the London music scene.
I Speak Because I Can is definitely a more grown-up effort from Marling. It is full of insightful lyrics and clever hooks like her first album, but it has a clear melancholy feel that dominates the record. Both the lyrics and the music throughout the 10-track album are of a darker, even bleaker, tone than Marling’s first album. We could put this down to the fact that Marling has grown-up in the three years since her first release, but we could also look to her personal life for the explanation. It’s hard to listen to Marling’s new album and not hear references to her ex-boyfriend, Charlie Fink of Noah and the Whale, especially since Fink’s band’s latest offering detailed his and Marling’s break-up in great detail. In case you don’t know the history, Marling, Fink and Marcus Mumford of Mumford and Sons all go way back. They knew each other back in their school days and all emerged on the nu-folk scene in London around 2007. Marling was part of the original line-up of Noah and the Whale and appeared as a background vocalist on their debut album Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down. Marling released her debut abum the same year, which was produced by Fink and also featured both him and Mumford. During these events Marling and Fink were linked romantically and were apparantly inseperable; living together, working together, touring together and so on. Eventually it all became too much and the young lovers parted ways. Marling was in 2010 apparantly dating Mumford. Hmmm… It’s quite difficult not to draw comparisons between I Speak Because I Can and Noah and the Whale’s The First Days of Spring; both albums deal with the various stages in the decay of a relationship and both album’s lyrics are going to encourage discussions on the relationship between Marling and Fink. The difference between the two however is that while Fink lays everything about the relationship bare in the most honest and public way, Marling chooses to veil her emotions by using characters to express herself rather than writing about herself directly. But her feelings still resonate clearly.
Marling’s sound has certainly advanced; I Speak Because I Can, while still mainly guitar based, makes much greater use of banjo, piano and strings to deliver something very, very special. The production of the album seems to be more polished, owed in great part to the switch from Fink to Kings of Leon producer Ethan Johns. Marling’s voice has also improved since her debut release, developing a much richer, deeper and even huskier tone yet still maintaining that beautiful clarity that made her so appealing in the beginning. Marling’s maturity is evident in her vocals; she sounds more confident and that slight nervousness we heard in her first album has disappeared. The change in tone is obvious from the first track on the album; “Devil’s Spoke” is a raging acoustic track layered with unrelenting guitar and banjo. Marling’s voice is bolder and tempered, especially in the chorus lines: “All of this can be broken / All of this can be broken / Hold your devil by his spoke and spin him to the ground”. It’s a great start to the album. In “Made By Maid”, Marling’s lightly husky voice breaks the surface of a beautiful and floaty folk melody. Third track “Rambling Man”, due to be the next single release from the album in early May, relies heavily on acoustic guitar as it opens, with much of the focus on Marling’s stunning voice. The song eases into pretty and layered harmonies and the pace soon builds and builds before storming into some beautiful orchestration. There’s some great lyrics in this track: “It’s hard to accept yourself as someone you don’t desire / As someone you don’t want to be.” “Blackberry Stone”, with lyrics like “ You never did learn to let it go / You never did learn how to see”, will probably draw most people’s minds back to Marling’s relationship with Fink. It’s a beautifully fragile track that explores the aftermath of a failed relationship, supported by soaring vocals, gentle guitar and a touch of bass, drums and violin. Filled with anxious violins and Russian infusions, “Alpha Shallows” is definaiely the most intense track on the album. A big move from her usual fluid guitar, this track is proof that Marling has made some significant developments in her sound. And it works. “Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)” was the first single to appear off Marling’s new album back in December. This song sees Marling take on a much more brighter outlook, exploring the English countryside and memories of her childhood days spent with her father. Death rears its head briefly but overall the track is oh-so-sweet with its lovely melody and romantic violin. More great lyrics to ooh and aah over here: “I tried to be a girl who likes to be used / I’m too good for that / There is a mind under this hat” Marling’s mood soon switches from sweet back to serious however with “Hope in the Air”. Don’t let it fool you; the title may sound positive and, well, hopeful but with lyrics like “no hope in the air, no hope in the water” you are quite quickly set straight. Again focusing on the battles that one faces in a relationship, this song explores Marling’s concerns with love and life after love. “What He Wrote” is said to be inspired by wartime love letters that Laura read in a newspaper. The song has a waltz-like rhythm to it and boasts some beautifully delicate vocals from Marling. “Darkness Descends” is gentle in its start with beautiful harmonies, but soon build into a jangly and catchy number. Definately the most upbeat track on the album. Closing (and title) track, “I Speak Because I Can”, is apparently a retelling of the story of Odysseus, but from his wife’s perspective. Marling’s vocals really take centre stage on this track, with the orchestration taking a step back. Again, some great lyrics here and Marling’s delivery is powerful.
I couldn’t dislike any of the ten tracks on I Speak Because I Can. Marling has strung together a bunch of elegant songs with great emotional depth, infused them with the folk traditions of her homeland, and really showcased her progression as a songwriter. Her 2010 album, for me, certainly confirms her as one of the most gifted and original songwriters out there today. In fairness, there’s not many artists out there making music as powerful and thought-provoking. Marling is a singer-songwriter who is wholly committed to her work. This adds to her appeal as you really feel that she is the type of person who’s not going to sell out for wealth or fame. It’s the music, and getting that music out there, that is most important to her. In an interview with The Times Online Marling had this to say: “…And I wouldn’t give up the music that I make for anything. I couldn’t even if I wanted to; the songs that I write aren’t up to me.”
If any of you readers out there would like any particular female artist, female-fronted or all-girl band featured here, please give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to oblige.