This May Sound Sexist, But Women Are Just Better Than Men at Rock Music: A Playlist

NOTE: This list is uh not safe for the whole family.

Rock represents (or at least one point did) rebellion, a pushing of boundaries beyond the mainstream. It has consistently expanded, pushing beyond itself when it was the status quo, through its sub-genres: psych-rock, punk, metal, new wave, grunge, emo while at its core remaining the same.

The oppression of women and their treatment is broad and long and does not need to be discussed here–their role in rock music is more the exception than the rule with a select few carrying the torch through a field of men. Even now, a struggle for recognition exists, though more underlying than explicit: women are accepted in rock music, but women are not in rock music. Of course rock music exists strangely today–it’s dominant, but those who dominate radio play are one-hit wonders rather than super stars. Mainstream rock is stale, as a 60 plus year genre should be, but as always there are great bands making great music on the fringes.

Women are making the best rock music right now–there is no question in my mind. There are so many little scrappy bands right now throwing together rock songs fit to be listened to in crowded garages–with short, speedy, belted out jams that are purely delightful. They tell stories akin to those in rock (and especially punk’s) early days, expressions from the fringe, taking angst often birthed from a sexist society (Trump anyone?) and turning into a musical rebellion, sometimes crass, but always creative.

Here is a wide, yet non-comprehensive playlist of what is currently happening–jump on board.

Sleater-Kinney

Foremothers (if you will) of sorts to this whole thing, Sleater-Kinney have been making rock jams for a long time. This year saw the release of their eighth album, showing that the group has not missed a beat.

Courtney Barnett

A singer-songwriter who leans toward punk-tinged rock music, Barnett’s specialty is her wit where she is a master at crafting lyrics. Tongue-in-cheek songs about making excuses to get out of going to a party and lawn mowing techniques–she’s very observational, creating stream-of-consciousness songs about what she sees around her and relating it to deeper personal tensions and insecurities.

Makthaverskan

A Swedish punk band whose name translates to “women with power”, they combine forward moving punk songs with a sort of 80s synth melody. Living up to their name, Maja Milner gets personal about her experiences with men, fighting through them in explicit and passionate ways.

Potty Mouth

Sounding like they’re coming straight from the garage, Potty Mouth embodies a sort of low-key aggression common amongst most the bands present on this playlist. Their guitars are fuzzy, the lyrics are straightforward, and the songs are catchy without ever getting poppy.

Ex Hex

Singer/guitarist Mary Timony has had a long road to the 2014 Ex Hex debut album Rips, as a seminal part of 90s noise pop group Helium and later super group Wild Flag in 2010. The Ex Hex debut was a wonderful rock and roll album filled with quickly paced and very catchy songs. It’s a perfectly capable album that anyone who enjoys guitar driven rock songs could definitely enjoy.

Screaming Females

Leaning on a more heavy sound than most of the groups listed here, there are moments on their most recent record Rose Mountain that are shockingly intense. This is lead by Marissa Paternoster’s strong vocals which are powerful enough to knock you back at any moment. The breakdown toward the end of “Burning Car” is pretty epic, reminiscent of those days I was super into metalcore.

Savages

Also a group that trends heavier and more serious, Savages burst onto the scene in 2013 with a very anti-technology/social media/distracted youth message. While they lack the sort of tongue-in-cheek attitude of a lot of these groups, they make up for it with the passion of their message, as lead track “Shut Up” shows, Savages are not afraid of confrontation.

White Lung

Definitely not for the faint of heart, White Lung leans toward the more old school side of hardcore when it comes to punk. These songs are aggressive, filled with quickly paced guitar solos, and pounding drums.

Hop Along

A group that probably rides or dies on the talents of its vocalist, singer Frances Quinlan goes all over the place showcasing a raspy yell backed by a tight backing band. Most of the labeling of Hop Along is as a folk rock group, likely because of the group’s origins (a solo project by Quinlan), but at this point they are definitely a rock band, fitting in quite nicely to the modern day emo revival.

Speedy Ortiz

Speedy Ortiz has revived the alt-rock of the 90s, giving it a modern indie rock feel, with definite punk influences. Another group that started as the solo project of its lead singer (Sadie Dupuis) and grew into a full-fledged critically acclaimed rock group (does this lead us into female rock star auteur theory?).

Tacocat

Taking on The Ramones’ at their most surf rock, Tacocat goes full tongue-in-cheek, exploring the female perspective with a full blast of irony. These are perfect beach songs, even if “Crimson Wave” isn’t as pure a surf song as it might seem upon first listen.

Alvvays

Indie pop filtered through a slacker rock aesthetic, from their purposefully misspelled name to their songs about getting married and grappling with the irony of growing into an adult, and Molly Rankin’s voice which always features a wink to it.

Chastity Belt

Reappropriating a device typically used to inhibit and to censor, Chastity Belt takes it on with a badge of irony, letting their feminism shine through the mores of old. Musically the band very much fits into a punk vein, but does so much more slow and pronounced than typical.

Perfect Pussy

Confrontational to its core (as their name might suggest), they originally started as a fake  band for a movie, but now are here to provide the most blatant and in your face group of the bunch. Their debut album clocks in at a brisk 29 minutes–nearly all of which is distorted and screamed.

Childbirth

https://childbirth.bandcamp.com/track/cowling-at-the-moon

Childbirth actually features two members from groups listed above (Julia Shapiro of Chastity Belt, Bree McKenna of Tacocat) and takes on the same comic feminism as both of them. Their new album is aptly titled Women’s Rights, is filled with brash lyrics, more obscene than thoughtful reflections about feminism, but punk has always been brash, and Childbirth do it more hilariously than most.

Top 10 Albums of the Year

First, an alphabetized list of honorable mentions. Records I listened to and liked, but didn’t stick or didn’t feel complete to me. The top 10 (actually 11 as you’ll see) I simply liked better, which is how this thing works.

Honorable mentions:

The Avett Brothers “Magpie and the Dandelion”, Daughter “If You Leave”, Holograms “Forever”, Justin Timberlake “The 2o/20 Experience Pt. 1”, Kanye West “Yeezus”, Neko Case “The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You”, Phosphorescent “Muchacho”, Rapsody “She Got Game”

And now the top 1o:

10. TIE

london_grammar_if_you_wait

London Grammar “If You Wait”- At number 10 we have a tie. London Grammar was a late bloomer for me, but the songs stuck with Hannah Reid’s deep vocals drawing me in. They are reminiscent of Florence Welch, but London Grammar chooses the melancholic calm over the robust songs of Florence + the Machine. Listen to album closer “If You Wait” to get a sense of both the melancholy and the power of Reid’s vocals.

and

the national

The National “Trouble Will Find Me” – The second spot for the tie, The National is one of my favorite bands, but the latest album was one that I had planned on leaving out of the top 10. However, on a late listen I discovered that there were too many songs that I adored on this record to leave out of the top 10. It is one of those albums that doesn’t excite me when I think about listening to it, but when I actually do, I remember how great it is.

Potty-Mouth-Hell-Bent

9. Potty Mouth “Hell Bent” – A four piece female garage/punk rock band that brings raw energy. There’s no other album I want to see be played in a crowded, sweaty garage. They’re so much fun and right up my alley.

Volcano-Choir-Repave

8. Volcano Choir “Repave” – The first few sounds of the album let you know that this is not just a Justin Vernon side project, but something that fits alongside his greatest works and could easily be called the third Bon Iver album. Its melancholic, atmospheric, and soul uplifting all at once.

janelle

7. Janelle Monáe “The Electric Lady” – Monáe’s last album was good, but never caught my attention track after track like “The Electric Lady” does. She continues her theme here of an android fighting for rights in a society that discriminates against them. The concept is woven throughout the album, with radio interludes every few tracks, but overall each song stands on its own. The way she is able to mix together so many genre influences is flawless: pop, funk, R&B, hip-hop, rock, soul; they’re all there.

parquet-courts-light-up-gold-608x608

6. Parquet Courts “Light Up Gold” – While at times they have a raw and fast punk sound, what really elevates Parquet Courts is their willingness to slow things down, making laid back songs that drip with wit. Andrew Savage sings with irony on his lips, which makes this band especially fun to listen to.

chance-the-rapper-acid-rap

5. Chance the Rapper “Acid Rap” – My favorite hip-hop album of the year – though I’m certainly no expert in that regard. This was one that I kept coming back to, particularly in the summer. It’s a really fun listen and what made me love it is this fun, fresh feel. His ability to touch on subjects like life in Chicago, his mom, love, drug use – all of which are all hip-hop staples – without feeling stale is what won me over.

arcade fire

4. Arcade Fire “Reflektor” – Some loved it, others hated it, I certainly stood with the prior. I got sucked into it easily, the best rock band of our time writing songs influenced by a Kierkegaard essay, while critiquing colonialism both in religious and cultural form was right up my alley. The songs are big and loud, showcasing their ever evolving sound; the lyrics as insightful as ever.

Chvrches-The-Bones-Of-What-You-Believe1

3. CHVRCHES “The Bones of What You Believe” – If all electronic pop music was as catchy as CHVRCHES’ debut, I would probably listen to it on a more regular basis. Not that this record was particularly groundbreaking for electronic music, but my personal tastes tend to be more grounded in guitars, bass, and drums. CHVRCHES made the best pop record of the year in my opinion, one that will barely see the sights of top 40 radio, but is most deserving of it.

lady lamb

2. Lady Lamb the Beekeeper “Ripely Pine” – An album that I absolutely loved that got little love elsewhere. Aly Spaltro makes acoustic folk songs that occasionally sound like the whimsy, wide-horned glasses wearing, ukelele sporting women that have become somewhat prevalent. However, in an instant she can throw all that cutesy out the window. Her songs are occasionally sweet, mostly sad and at times downright angry.

Vampire-Weekend-Modern-Vampires-Of-The-City

1. Vampire Weekend “Modern Vampires of the City” – From the moment that I heard “Ya Hey” I knew that every other album had better watch out for this one. Vampire Weekend’s third album is probably my favorite of the last five years. Musically their songs are at the top of their game, the infectious Buddy Holly-ness of “Diane Young”, the upbeat “Unbelievers”, the chanting “Ya Hey”, they did an incredible job putting all of these together. Even more than this, where the album truly becomes a master work in my opinion is in its lyrics. Ezra Koenig maintains the same wit and charm he’s always had (which some hate and others love) but reflects on death and religion. I was moved by his thoughts, doubts, hopes, and struggles. It is such a surprisingly mature step forward for Koenig and company, one that is certainly welcome and one that I believe will make its mark in music.