Saturday, July 29, 2017

NPR's 150 Best Albums by Women - My Takes

NPR just put out a list of the 150 best albums made by women.  Compiled by over 50 NPR women, more precisely as put by Ann Powers:
"It features albums by artists who identify as female — including some by mixed-gender bands, like Fleetwood Mac and X, that, in our view, relied on women's creativity for their spark.... It stands for music history, touching upon every significant trend, social issue, set of sonic innovations, and new avenue for self-expression that popular music has intersected in the past fifty years...."

Powers lays out some of the pitfalls of list-making, even bringing up one obscure feminist notion that list-making itself is hierarchical, and as such might be anti-feminist.  OK, so there's that.  But we're taking about art here.  Perspective and feeling, are defined by subjectivity, and to pretend that we shouldn't have personal hierarchies - to enjoy some thing more than others is just, well... too sad.  And not fun.  And uninteresting.

So, with that in mind, I present my own, entirely subjective response based on how I have experienced these artists, according to my own repertoire of response.

First, I must say that the list was very political, in that it tried to please a lot of people.  It's multicultural, high and low.  That's fine.  But it is a "list" after all, and that implies a trajectory.  Compiling a list by committee is going to be filled with contradictions.  Famous critics' lists tend to be from institutions that represent more narrow perspectives, which smooths this out.  But that's also the point.  Music (especially rock) is generally written, performed, produced, released and written about by men.  Enough said.

OK, then.  My taste runs heavily towards rock, with smatterings of reggae, hip hop, country, jazz thrown in.  I also like a lot of music that is fundamentally Not Great.  It is derivative, cheesy, overproduced, and at some level simply soul-less.  I would place most popular music in this category.  Your Foreigners, your Everly Brothers, your (I'm so going to get a kick out of this... your Beach Boys).  Then you have music that is well-crafted, earnest, and yet just not interesting enough.  It doesn't move me.  I'm talking here about your Paul Simons, your Carpenters, your Didos, Adeles and Sara McLaughlins.  To get on any Best Of list of mine your art has to be singular, brave, raw, and at some level have really made an impact on me.

Going through the NPR list, many of the artists I simply haven't heard of.  Some, like maybe Aretha Franklin or Roberta Flack, I would agree are great - but just have never been moving enough to me personally. (As for Flack, Killing Me Softly is a classic, but I would be able to name much else from her).  So, the following stand out to me:

Breeders (Pod was a better album.  And le me just say that the fact that this came in at #144 while Britney Spears was at #92 sort of sums up everything that one might despise in the particular NPR overeducated, safe, milktoast, dumbly arch set.  It's just this sort of thing that makes me want to vomit on a pair of Tevas and huck them over the fence into their DMB concert.)  Ahem...
Joanna Newsom (milk-eyed mender was better)
Cocteau Twins (Heaven or LV is spot-on)
Sonic Youth (my fave is thousand leaves)
X (Los Angeles hard to beat)
Sleater Kinney (weirdly, can’t really deal with them, but the Woods is a fucking epic)
Portishead (Dummy is excellent)
Hole (Live through This), Kate Bush (really hard to choose), Bjork (never really made a good album, but taken individually, has a handful of brilliant songs)  
PJ Harvey (Rid of me was really a lesser album, I’d place Dry as tops, followed by Stories and White Chalk)
Fleetwood Mac (Rumors is correct)
Lauryn Hill (I haven’t listened t it in years, but it was amazing when it came out - has it aged well?)... and, that's all.

From this list, I'd place Kate Bush and Breeders (Kim Deal) as tied for my tops.

A lot there that I haven't heard of.  I'm also wondering who I would add.  Plenty of bands with women as driving forces that aren't mentioned: Beach House, Camera Obscura, Cat Power, The Dirty Projectors, My Bloody Valentine, Dum Dum Girls, The Fiery Furnaces, Frankie Rose, The Joy Formidable, Laura Veirs, Low, Mitski, Kristen Hersh, Patsy Cline, Quasi, St. Vincent, Stina Nordenstam, Nico, White Lung.

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