Wednesday, May 12, 2010

FP Top 5: American Women

(Our Weekly Wednesday Countdown)

The history of the United States of America is littered with national embarrassments, from our military defeat at the hands of a bunch of French-Canadians,  to our president disgorging on the Prime Minister of Japan, to this guy.  Not least amongst these embarrassments was the appearance 40 years ago this week of the song "American Woman" by The Guess Who atop the Billboard charts (we apologize for what the previous sentence may have done to your internal soundtrack).  Many other musical internet destinations might choose to overlook this shameful moment in our national history, and they would be well within their rights to do so.

But, here at FP, when we are given lemons we make a Tom Collins.  Therefore, in honor of this calamitous moment in American musical history, we bring you our Top 5 American Women in indie rock today.  As with last week, this is meant to be a contemporary list, so don't get your jock-strap in a knot over the absence of Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, or Kim Deal.  We know, we like them too.  And yes, Sleater-Kinney is awesome.  They are just not the subject of this piece.

Honorable mention goes to Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells,  primarily because we hope she reads this and tells us how much she enjoys our work.  Why thank you Alexis, we enjoy your work too.  What's that?  Would we like to take a bike ride through Prospect Park?  Why, that would be delightful!  Um, here's a mixtape we made for you........oops, sorry.  Zoned out there for a second.  On to the real top 5.

5. Victoria Legrand (Beach House)
It may appear as we're cheating a bit already, as Legrand was born in Paris and is in fact the niece of famed film composer Michel Legrand.  But, as at least 49 of our 50 states know, this nation was built on the backs of immigrants: Victoria was raised in Philadelphia and later moved to Charm City to form dream-pop duo Beach House with multi-instrumentalist Alex Scally.  Legrand plays organ in addition to her charming vocal work; the group's remarkable third record Teen Dream was released earlier this year.

Beach House - Walk In The Park

4. Marnie Stern
Like Eddie Van Halen, except a woman and not terrible.  Suffice it to say that, while the men were putting their unique skills to work, she was practicing . Her debut full-length In Advance of the Broken Arm was deemed the most exciting rock record of 2007 by one venerable media institution, and its follow-up (title too long to print) was even more shred-tastic. 

3. Annie Clark aka St. Vincent
A woman with an impressive résumé indeed, including work with Glenn Branca, The Polyphonic Spree, and Sufjan Stevens.  Her second solo record Actor, released last year, was exceedingly well-received.  She will perform on Central Park's Summer Stage on June 8.

2. Joanna Newsom
An indisputably singular talent in the world today.  While her use of recondite language, her affinity for Appalachian music, and her primary choice of instrument make her music an acquired taste, it is one that is certainly worth acquiring.  While some of our staff prefer her in limited doses, others happily while away afternoons to her recent triple-LP.

Joanna Newsom - Go Long

We were tempted to place Joanna at #1 solely on the basis of her recent reference to Lady Gaga as "Arty Spice," but overall breadth of accomplishment forced us to slide her one slot back in favor of...

1. Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs)  
Born in South Korea but raised in the great state of New Jersey, Karen O has grown into one of the most prominent figures in independent music in the last decade.  But her accomplishments are more far-ranging than just her vocal work: in addition to her work with Yeah Yeah Yeahs, she has directed music videos for Liars and Tiny Masters of Today, and she penned the entire soundtrack to Spike Jonze film version of Where the Wild Things Are.  It is not an exaggeration to say that she is one of the few true "rock stars" working today, and as such she earns our vote as top American Woman in indie.


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