Welcome to the second edition of Be Here Now, a new column/playlist where we compile inspired new music for busy folks who would like to discover outstanding contemporary artists.
Here is a link to the Be Here Now Spotify playlist, which includes songs from all the artists mentioned in this column and many more.
Women are still underrepresented in vast swaths of society, but when it comes to producing smart, lingering, introspective new music, they are leading the way.
It is challenging to keep track of the many great female artists producing quality work today, stretching and pushing their songs to places that reflect modern life and embody new sounds, while still remaining somewhat rooted in templates created by past icons.
The breakthrough female artists of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s like Joni Mitchell and Chrissie Hynde created their music during a time when society was beginning to wrestle with women’s autonomy and independence, and many of their songs reflected the challenges presented to women during those changing times. Many of today’s artists operate from a more confident perspective – self-empowered and self-realized and more often on comparable footing with their male counterparts.
No one has received more critical love in the last year than Fiona Apple, whose last album Fetch The Bolt Cutters (reviewed by Wayne Robins in Copper 112) is raw, intense and musically ambitious. While much new output from artists is meant to be consumed track by track, Fetch should be listened to all the way through. The songs build on each other; the listener is drawn further into Apple’s personal challenges and experimental palette and the cumulative impact is staggering. We included “Shameika” from the album on Be Here Now but strongly encourage you to find an uninterrupted hour to listen to the entire album.
Angel Olsen’s hypnotic songs, often orchestrated with strings, are represented here by “All Mirrors.” Sharon Van Etten has been making dramatic, personal music for almost a decade and on the amazing “Seventeen,” she addresses her teenage self from the vantage point of her 30s.
Canadian Kathleen Edwards’ influences are rooted more in singer-songwriters like Suzanne Vega and Shawn Colvin and alt-country groups like the Jayhawks. Her song “Hard On Everyone” with its pristine production, perfect hook and heartfelt lyrics is five minutes of impeccable craft. Margo Price, who often works with Jack White (the White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather), finds that hard to locate but so-satisfying intersection of country and rock that Lucinda Williams gets to on her more aggressive songs.
A number of 20-something artists have broken through in the last few years, including Phoebe Bridgers and Soccer Mommy, who on her single “Your Dog” subversively sings “I don’t want to be your f*cking dog” – over a very hummable melody. 21 year old Holly Humberstone’s “Falling Asleep at the Wheel” starts with her alone on the piano deconstructing a relationship and morphs into a soothing, electronic dance track which only intensifies the frustration she expresses in her lyrics.
There are many other artists on the playlist worth checking out. Girl in Red records in her bedroom and produces sexy songs about her girlfriends, Caroline Rose’s bouncy “Feel The Way I Want” celebrates her freedom, and Arlo Parks taps into a soulful Portishead vibe on “Eugene.”
The featured artists are all artists. In this track-driven era, fans often only listen to one song per artist and many great songs are lost. The performers here have plenty of other outstanding tracks and I encourage you to dig in to the catalogs of the artists you like the most. The breadth and quality of their work is well worth your time.
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Header image of Phoebe Bridgers courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/David Lee.