Women on top
by Gregg Shapiro
Would we have Mitski without queer artist St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark)? It's hard to ignore St. Vincent's influence. But Mitski is her own artist on Puberty 2 (Dead Oceans), beginning with the stuttering beat and fluttering vocal of "Happy," a song that morphs from experimental to pure pop and back again. Her loud-quiet-loud approach on "Best American Girl" suits the subject's drama. Prepare yourself for the shift from the shrieking punk of "My Body's Made of Crushed Little Stars" to the exquisite ballad "Thursday Girl." Like puberty, there is never a dull moment on this album. Mitski makes an indelible impression with "Crack Baby," "Dan the Dancer" and "Fireworks."
Jesca Hoop released her debut album in 2007. Ten years later, she's finally getting the recognition she deserves with Memories Are Now (Sub Pop). Hoop continues to be unconventional in the best possible way. The opening title-cut is one of the more accessible tunes, but it's no cookie-cutter Katy Perry song. It's a bare-bones affair augmented by layered choral vocals. "Animal Kingdom Chaotic" is sure to appeal to LGBT fans of Little Britain with its "Computer says no" echo.
Endorsed by Hillary Clinton's former running mate Tim Kaine, Lucy Dacus makes her debut with No Burden (Matador). That's quite a distinction, and it's easy to understand the appeal. Dacus' honey-and-smoke voice conveys every inch of an emotion, and her songs, beginning with "I Don't Wanna Be Funny Anymore," pack an emotional wallop. "Troublemaker Doppelganger" alternates between the blues and a modern rock gallop.
Medicine for Birds (Warner Brothers) is the debut album by young singer-songwriter Angelica Garcia, a natural folkie ("Bridge on Fire"), front-porch stomper ("Woman, I'm Hollerin'"), modern blues blaster ("Orange Flower"), balladeer ("Loretta Lynn") and twangy torch singer ("Call Me Later"). Medicine for Birds is a fine introduction to an artist with much to offer.
The rocky coast photo on the cover of Sallie Ford's Soul Sick (Vanguard) is an indication that these songs are a different kind of beach music. The vintage vibe of "Screw Up" and "Hurts So Bad" might have you thinking about doing The Jerk in a polka-dot bikini atop a beach blanket. But the lyrics are about more than finding the perfect wave. Don't neglect to dig that Farfisa on "Get Out."
Taking its title Freedom Highway (Nonesuch) from the "Pops" Staples song that closes the disc, Rhiannon Giddens' second solo album mines a vintage vein. Giddens writes and performs in a style that honors the past. She strikes a balance between folk and soul styles that call on the past ("The Love We Almost Had") and the present ("Better Get It Right the First Time"), sometimes within the same song.