Girls to the Front

Girls to the Front

Last week’s theme was completely accidental. I went in knowing for certain that I wanted to talk about my newly beloved Sister Rosetta, but the ‘Inspiring Women’ business was entirely spontaneous – I guess I was touched by her badassness and it all snowballed from there…

However it turned out pretty damn topical, as, sandwiched between this week’s post and last, was International Women’s Day (March 8th). So I figured I would keep the ball rolling this week and create a playlist for you guys, which celebrates a few of my favourite women in music.

Before I sign off, however, I should say that I feel a little bit like a hypocrite. It frustrates me when platforms like this, or radio stations, films, etc. dedicate one special day or film to women, but fail to try and change the male dominated status quo on the other 364 days of the year. I’m not necessarily calling for an end to the single-day celebration of women, however it must no longer be used as a way for companies (and the like) to congratulate themselves briefly and then wash their hands of the issue of equality.

I think it’s important to celebrate our musical women so that’s why I’m going ahead with this playlist, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to neglect my girls in the future. I want to make that very clear. Girls will always take their place at the front.

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Fortnightly Favourites #2

New Find: Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Old Favourite: Veruca Salt
Music Video: PJ Harvey – This is Love/Down By The Water
Film: The Virgin Suicides

New Find: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Let me take a moment to give thanks for the day I discovered Sister Rosetta Tharpe – for this was the day that I discovered the true origins of rock and roll, not to mention my new favourite role model. I can think of very few women who come close to being as much of a badass as this one.

Frequently referred to as ‘the Godmother of rock and roll’, Sister Rosetta laid the early foundations for rock music, accompanying her unique gospel vocals (for which she became popular during the 1930s and 40s) with her unparalleled mastery of the electric guitar.

Sister Rosetta has been described as influencing musicians such as Johnny Cash, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley, and is even said to have inspired the so-called ‘pioneer of rock and roll’ Chuck Berry.

As significant as these men have been for rock and roll, never forget that rock’s origins come in the form of an incredible African-American woman, born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, and who goes by the name of Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

In case you needed any more convincing of her greatness, 1min 24secs should do the trick:

Old Favourite: Veruca Salt

I found myself now wandering down a path of all my favourite women in rock music, a path that time and again leads me to Veruca Salt, or more specifically, the total babes Nina Gordon and Louise Post who front this excellent 90s alternative-rock band.

This band has a powerful energy which lends itself to the captivating chemistry between these dual vocalists/guitarists.

Unmissable is their 1994 debut album American Thighs. Though many of its tracks follow the common quiet/loud alternative-rock template popularised by the likes of The Pixies and, soon after, Nirvana, there is a gutsiness to the tight harmonies of their vocals, and a tension in their guitars which drives each song to their swelling climax.

Standouts of this album would include Wolf, a slow-burner which sees the Gordon and Post’s harmonies in all their glory, and my personal favourite – the nearly 8 minute long epic, 25. This track kicks off with a roaring intro that lures you into a false sense of pace and volume, however the band quickly subverts expectations and within the first minute strip everything back so a gentle guitar hook and nearly whispered vocals. Gently the track swells and retreats, with lyrics that make their way through a young girls life, before a final explosive release of wailing guitars.

An honourable mention, of course, must go to the album’s first single Seether, which inspired 15-year-old me to pick up a guitar just so I could learn to play that song. Sadly though, there’s been little development of my guitar skills since.

Music Video: PJ Harvey – This is Love/Down By The Water

Directors: Sophie Muller/Maria Mochnacz.

Of course, I can’t talk about my rock role models without mentioning the one and only Polly Jean. However, try as I might, I could not choose between her videos.

PJ Harvey captured audience’s hearts when she danced, in a red silk dress and blue eyeshadow, to her 1995 single Down By The Water. Shot on 35mm film and directed by Maria Mochnacz, the video is simple, yet undeniably seductive, and earned a nomination for Best Female Video at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards.

I cannot, however, go past the video for This is Love. Shot six years later by Sophie Muller, this video has a very similar Harvey-focused premise, though this time featuring her playing guitar in the most incredible white fringe suit. When I think of the phrase ‘effortlessly cool’ this video is the reason PJ Harvey comes to mind.

Also, tasteless as it is to talk about female musicians in terms of their sex-appeal, these videos are overflowing with it. I think I need to sit down for a moment…

Film: The Virgin Suicides (1999)

Director: Sofia Coppola

Subtle and whimsical, yet deeply disturbing, Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides is this week’s must-watch. Based on the 1993 novel by American author Jeffrey Eugenides, this film is a tale of suburban middle-class tragedy, as well as teenage boredom and obsession.

The story is told from the perspective of a group of teenage boys who grow increasingly curious about a neighbouring family’s five stunning teenage daughters, each born a year apart. The girls’ conservative parents – prompted by the suicidal tendencies of their youngest – pull them out of school and restrict the girls from leaving the confines of their home. Now the boys’ curiosity about the girls, who have become even more elusive, begins to manifest into a fixation. The girls however, find themselves heading down an isolated path to eventual self-destruction.

You can probably predict from this title, that this is not a feel-good film. However, the care and delicacy with which it is shot is simply breathtaking. My favourite aspect of this film, however, is its stunning score by French ambient/electronic duo Air. I actually became a fan of the album release of this score, long before I realised there was even a film to accompany it (in my defence, I was too young to watch the film at the time). With this score Air managed to perfectly capture the feeling of teenage innocence and whimsy, as well as the disquieting tension that lies under the surface. Making The Virgin Suicides all the more worthwhile a watch.

Fortnightly Favourites #1

New Find: Gap Dream
Old Favourite: Eels
Music Video: Beastie Boys – Sabotage
Film: Dig!

New Find: Gap Dream

Gap Dream is the psychedelic synthpop brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Gabe Fulvimar. Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio and now California-based, Fulvimar is the sole creative behind Gap Dream, and its only regular member. Hazy and synthesiser heavy, Gap Dream strikes a curious balance between upbeat pop and melancholic garage rock. Proudly a member of the Burger Records family, Gap Dream provides the perfect pool-party wind-down jams or Sunday morning chillers.

Old Favourite: Eels

More Californian, multi-instrumentalist goodness from a band close to my heart – Eels. At risk of playing my cards too soon, Eels were formed the same year I was born, in 1995, and I feel have followed me closely ever since. I first became aware of the indie-rockers at the age of six, with their 2001 release of Souljacker. The bold red album cover, with its grainy black and white photo of bearded frontman ‘E’ carrying a fluffy white dog, immediately burned itself into my memory, and with the gutsy opening riff of Dog Faced Boy, the album became a fast favourite. I also loved the later track, Woman Driving, Man Sleeping so much that I have since demanded it be played at my funeral.
A few years later, I fully discovered the bands debut Beautiful Freak. Though now embarrassingly overdramatic, my early high school years were endured thanks to the  frank and tormented lyrics of this stunning record. I never could quite get past the use of My Beloved Monster on the Shrek soundtrack, however.
With an impressive discography of almost a dozen albums, it would be impossible to fully capture this band’s varied sound and various qualities in one short paragraph. To those who are unfamiliar with Eels, however, I do strongly urge you to check them out. Very few bands have since made such an impact as they did on an infant Naomi.

Music Video: Beastie Boys – Sabotage

Director: Spike Jonze

Does this video need introducing? The Spike Jonze directed video to the first single off the Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication, Sabotage is a tongue-in-cheek homage to the cheesy crime dramas of the 1970s. Featuring the aviator-donned band members as actors in the opening credits to a fictional cop show, the video for Sabotage received five nominations at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards. Jam-packed with knife fights, muscle cars and fake moustaches, this three-minute cop-show is almost deserving of an actual series.

Film: Dig! (2004)

Director: Ondi Timoner

Directed by Ondi Timoner, this early-2000s documentary follows Oregon rock band The Dandy Warhols and their psychedelic San Franciscan counterparts The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Filmed over seven years, Dig! tracks The Dandy Warhols as they gain popularity and strive for commercial success. Simultaneously, The Brian Jonestown Massacre appear fractious, fronted by their erratic and feisty founder Anton Newcombe. The film also captures the love-hate relationship between the two bands, though at times the Blur/Oasis-style rivalry seems nothing more than a Newcombe fantasy.
Dig! received almost unanimous critical acclaim, winning the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, however has since been criticised by members of each band, for its unrealistic portrayal of The Brian Jonestown Massacre and the relationship between the two bands. But for many young viewers, this was the film that put The Brian Jonestown Massacre on the map and introduced them to a generation of new fans. Though it appears Timoner has taken some liberties in forcing a plot into a documentary, this is a raw film that captures the struggle faced by many musicians, and is well worth a watch for anyone interested in the glorious West Coast scene at the turn of the century.