Cherchez La Femme Musicale

Look For The Musical Women
by Mario Martin
August 2014



Alexandre Dumas wrote in his native French, “…in every case, there is a woman, I say, ‘Look for the woman.’” Dumas may have been tongue-in-cheek about his description of women, but accurate nonetheless in the concept. In every case, in every instance, in every way, women are deeply rooted in the specifics. And while Dumas might have had misogynistic undertones in his musings, the antithesis still holds true: no matter the specifics of the solution (opposite of problem), women are the root.

Apply this concept to the musical landscape of 2014, and even earlier. During the ebbs and flows of quality music, there have been successful women standing proudly atop the charts. Some of it was good and some of it, well, whatever. Throughout history though, there have been landmark artists like Janis Joplin or Stevie Nicks to take a stance and wail. There have been pioneers of shock pop like Madonna and Lady Gaga all the while, as well, who have taken turning heads to an art form, and legitimized the genre. There are the Joan Jetts and the Sean Yseults who have rocked houses, while Gillian Gilbert made everyone’s Mondays blue. The point is, all these ladies have worn motherhood on their visages for waves of new artists to emerge. And emerge they have, in 2014, in the form of Elliphant, Kodacrome and Zola Jesus…

In a world where the sap that is Justin Vernon’s bore-some shoegaze meets the forgettable-ness of an Iggy Azalea, or God forbid anyone mentions the clown prince du jour himself, Justin Bieber, this world needs help. Badly. Recent rescue efforts can be heard from Swedish import, Ellinor Olovsdotter. Olovsdotter is best recognized by her nom de plume, Elliphant. The April 1 release of her first U.S. distributed EP, “Look Like You Love It” (TEN/Kemosabe/Mad Decent), is a lesson in “provocative pop” that is more akin to the offspring of M.I.A. and Icona Pop, with a dubby bass EDM backdrop that is as singable as it is danceable. What stands Elliphant apart from her contemporaries is her ability to bend from one style to the next. While the instrumentals are gritty and heavy, Elliphant’s voice remains clear and catchy, with hip-hop sensibilities backed with stacks of basslines thick with smoke from Ibiza clubs. Makes sense considering Elliphant’s supporters. Her collaborators and cheerleaders include TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek, Diplo, Dr. Luke and EDM darling, Skrillex. Together, Elliphant with her band of merry men, crafted an EP chock-full of club anthems as well as tracks to hear throughout expansive beaches during volleyball games. Provocative pop indeed, and Elliphant is only getting started here. Imagine her return to the studio after her run of U.S. dates beginning in September.

Jet set from Sweden to New York to hear Brooklyn-based duo, Kodacrome, perfecting what its contemporaries are attempting. Bringing back the spirit of droning synth-happy looping modulators, Ryan Casey and Elissa LeCoque make music parallel to Phantogram, yet wildly different. Kodacrome tends to leave out any and all hip-hop influence—which is a wise idea. They are more akin to Austin’s Vulgar Fashion, without the punk attitude. Bringing back the heyday of industrial, more through hard electro abilities (think more Ladytron or early Nitzer Ebb and Front 242) than new wave, every review of this outfit is flat out incorrect. Kodacrome stands out alone as a purveyor of a new sound instead of bridging gaps and all those other nonsense buzzwords journalists tend to use. These two musicians make music that is sonically defiant from the doldrums of commercial pop, while residing generally within earshot of it. It’s very confusing. It’s very mathematical. Casey’s cold technological sounds, mixed with LeCoque’s vulnerable, suggestive and sometimes baritone vocals give way to complex “rubber glove seduction.” There was never really an occasion to reference PTP’s record of that same until now, but it’s fitting. And thankfully the duo does not overcomplicate the equation with more instrumentation than needed. Synthesizers, vocals, and effects are all that’s needed for Kodacrome to get the mood set just right. Let it be very clear that Kodacrome’s self-released LP, “Aftermaths” (released July 29), isn’t a record to simply play, it requires active listening. It is intellectual. It is sensual. Long for it. Lust for it.

From Sweden to New York to… Wisconsin? Hailing from Madison, Wisconsin, Nika, best known by her Zola Jesus moniker, is the third female musical savior of late. Her forthcoming record, “Taiga” (Mute Records) is a fresh take on pop music. It marks a newfound sense of personal and artistic self for Nika as it grows upon her last few years of increasing success. Her style, much like the previous artists, is far from anything else. It can always be categorized, but it suffers correct categorization. Nika’s voice, which reaches operatic highs and lows, is set against an almost gothic or industrial backdrop, while together voice and instrument blend into one another where it’s difficult to truly hear where one begins and the other ends. The first track from “Taiga”, ‘Dangerous Days’, hears Nika’s voice match more closely to Rihanna with little to no effort or production. Standing apart from the aforementioned, Nika’s voice lilts perfectly across beats effortlessly, creating a catchy, yet dark soundtrack waiting to explode across the world market. In fact, ‘Dangerous Days’ begs to be remixed by club DJs, pumping out of speakers as crowds gather, dance and sing along in unabashed enjoyment as dark clouds hang overhead.

So Dumas said, “look for the woman,” but failed to capture the truest essence of the woman. Beautiful in every regard, these modern day pioneers of popular music are unique, yet beautiful in their sonic visages. Whether flipping through a magazine and seeing Swedish beauty Ellinor Olovsdotter, New Yorker Elissa LeCoque or Wisconsinite Nika, you quickly learn that talent has a beautiful face. You come to believe that popular music doesn’t have to be empty. And it comes to be known that regardless the sound or genre, pop music has three new faces to herald…”cherchez la femme musicale.”

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