Playlist: Quirky ladies of pop

Not all pop musicians are made alike. Thank goodness for the weird ones. Here’s a list of the ladies that gladly make what they want, whether it’s a night of dancing on the town or sulking in the dark corner of your bedroom.

1. “Zero”- Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Karen O is clearly a badass. I love how she can be both vulnerable (“Maps”) or aggressive (“Date with the Night”) with ease.

Karen O of the Yeah  Yeah Yeahs
Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Photo Credit: Damian Shaw)

“Zero,” taken from the album It’s Blitz, is a departure from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ edgier, more punk output earlier on, but clearly Karen O is having a blast. Her outfits are proof.

2. “Northern Lights”- St. Vincent

On the surface, Annie Clark’s work seems like breezy pop/rock songs, but digging deeper reveals rich textures and an underlying edgy tone that isn’t found in the majority of modern pop music. Go take a listen to her new self-titled album via NPR if you haven’t already.

3. “Infinity Guitars”- Sleigh Bells

Juxtaposition is what Sleigh Bells is all about. What other band can say it is comprised of powerful 1980s metal guitars and sugary pop choruses? Singer Alexis Krauss doesn’t have the most impressive vocal abilities, but her ability to intersperse sweet coos with shouts and chants sets her apart.

4. “The Trick Is to Keep Breathing”- Garbage

Oh do I love Shirley Manson. She’s one of the first women that showed me female-fronted bands can indeed be cool (I’ve usually preferred male vocalists).

Shirley Manson of Garbage (Photo Credit: John Kenney)
Shirley Manson of Garbage (Photo Credit: John Kenney)

Though her music can be described as rock, there’s always a pop element to it, and Shirley Manson has an effortlessly cool style and demeanor.

5. “Glass”- Bat for Lashes

I’ve always felt Natasha Khan has a certain mysterious quality about her.

Much like Florence Welch, she creates baroque pop that often incorporates a hint of mysticism. Okay, maybe more than a hint.

6. “Bones”- MS MR

Lizzy Plapinger’s voice is so unique. Her powerful, husky tone compliments MS MR’s dark indie pop.

Lizzy Plapinger of MS MR and her always cool hair
Lizzy Plapinger of MS MR and her always cool hair

The debut album Secondhand Rapture is one of those albums for which you won’t feel inclined to skip a track.

7. “Feral Love”- Chelsea Wolfe

Goth culture has found a new inspiration. Wolfe’s somber music and visuals are hauntingly atmospheric. Too bad she isn’t more popular, because there’s such a breath of fresh air to her approach.

8. “Circumambient”- Grimes

Claire Boucher’s angelic, wispy voice layered over many, many vocal tracks and synthesized sounds didn’t immediately engross me, but take a few listens and you’ll start to realize just how smart and layered her records are.

9. “Falling”- Haim

This talented trio of sisters have soared in success since the release of their debut album Days are Gone in 2013. R & B, soul, modern pop, and classic rock are all sprinkled within the catchy record. Somehow it all works.

10. “Army of Me”- Björk

The fabulously weird Bjork (Photo Credit: Andre Csillag)
The fabulously weird Bjork (Photo Credit: Andre Csillag)

Countless artists have been inspired by her, but Iceland’s most popular musical export is in a league all her own.

Raw yet sentimental, Björk’s otherworldly voice and music has opened up the genre of pop in a whole new way.

11. “Fist of a Flower”- Gemma Ray

Though not as well known as most of the artists on this list, Gemma Ray is a British singer/songwriter that has released several albums evoking a 60s pop vibe for the modern age. Considering she collaborated on a single with Sparks, she’s the definition of quirky.

12. “Spectrum”- Florence and the Machine

That powerhouse voice Florence Welch has can wail about anything and make it sound spectacular, but Welch’s lyrics also separate her from the overtly saturated pop genre. She sings about everything from ghosts to mental breakdowns, yet somehow manages to keep it all sound sweeping and beautiful.

13. “Dreams”- Fleetwood Mac

This playlist just needs to end with a classic. Besides Stevie Nicks’ wild lifestyle back in the day, there’s actually good music there too! Nicks’ vocals are unlike any other, and her style of long flowing garb has inspired many (including the aforementioned Florence Welch.

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The Grammy Awards want variety for this year’s televised performances

Normally I wouldn’t be eager to watch the Grammy Awards ceremony, but this year’s roster of performers is surprising for anyone used to just sparkly divas and the latest pop sensation predominantly on TV. The 56th annual music celebration will have more alternative selections this time around.

Metallica and pianist Lang Lang will perform a rendition of "One" from 1988's "...And Justice for All."
Metallica and pianist Lang Lang will perform a rendition of “One” from 1988’s “…And Justice for All.” (Photo Credit: Yasuyoshi Chiba)

The heavily nominated Daft Punk will be joined onstage by a groovy, funky bunch consisting of none other than Stevie Wonder, Pharrell Williams, and Chic’s Nile Rodgers. Both Rodgers and Williams made contributions to Daft Punk’s record Random Access Memorieswhich has been nominated for Album of the Year.

Of course, Pharrell sang on the huge summertime hit “Get Lucky,” but also provided vocals for the second single “Lose Yourself to Dance.” In addition to putting his disco mark on the previously mentioned tracks, guitarist Nile Rodgers also contributed to album opener “Give Life Back to Music.” This group of musicians makes perfect sense, considering they all have such nods to funk and soul (and if you’ve never heard of Pharrell’s previous group The Neptunes, definitely take a listen).

In a very different style lies Metallica’s performance of “One” alongside Chinese pianist Lang Lang, which will obviously bring a clash of styles, but at least it won’t be a worse collaboration than Lulu. Maybe picking a pianist that has played his share of Liszt to coincide with a thrash metal band isn’t such a bad idea.

Just a few days ago blues maestro Gary Clark Jr. and country star Keith Urban were additionally announced as a performers. Though I’m not too fond of Keith Urban, it’s a relief to see a veteran indie musician like Gary Clark Jr. able to attain more national visibility. His latest album Blak And Blu from 2012 is a good starting point for anyone interested in a modern take on soul and blues.

However, the performance I’m looking forward to the most is the finale consisting of Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham, Dave Grohl, Nine Inch Nails, and Queens of the Stone Age. Considering Queens of the Stone Age and Nine Inch Nails alone took up approximately half of my listening pleasure last year, this superband is going to be one fantastically heavy way to end the awards show.

All I’m worried about is that there’s going to be an excessive amount of guitarists on stage. Just because one is able to put five guitarists on stage together doesn’t mean one should. Whatever the case may be, bring on the noise.

For more information on all of the performers, click here. Which performance are you looking forward to the most?

Related Links

Discovery by Daft Punk

…And Justice For All by Metallica

Sound City – Real to Reel [+digital booklet]