New music can be frustrating or joyous. Even artists who released a favorite CD the year before can change styles and their next outing may not be to your taste. One of the great benefits of the library is a chance to listen to the entire album. It's an opportunity to decide whether the CD is a "keeper" or just musical accompaniment on a long road trip.
Three new releases from female artists labeled "indie" by AMG are vastly different in style and texture. Julianna Barwick's CDs are usually just ethereal loops of her voice layered over itself. The new CD "Nepenthe" has a little more structure, but no actual lyrics and more instrumentation though it's sparse throughout. It has a flowing New Age ambiance. The third song "One Half" is the most commercial and sounds like Clannad. "Nepenthe's" wispy quality makes it good for relaxation or meditation.
Zola Jesus' "Versions" is more mainstream than Barwick's. Using less technology on than former releases, her clear, pristine voice is accompanied by violin and cello on this CD, but it's far from classical. When the beat kicks in the music becomes a dance floor drone with strings. The true standout here is JG Thirwell who did the string arrangements. From giving a little texture, to adding intensity Thirwell gives each song a spark.
"Loud City Song" by Julia Holter is also listed as indie music, but it leans toward jazz and has a non-traditional structure. Holter uses her voice with like an instrument itself. In the first song her vocals are almost spoken while another, a horn laden piece, she's breathy as she relates to being chased while sound effects of running footfalls weave in and out. It's an eclectic mix. Some songs sound like Nora Jones at her most stark, while "Hello Strangers" is similar to early Sarah McLachlan.
Music, like art, has positive and negative space. In comparing these musicians, Barwick's would be a watercolor wash of swirling pastels. Zola Jesus is painting in oil with the strings bringing out unexpected beauty - the reflection in the glass, the flutter of the curtain hinting at a breeze. Holter is more an abstract artist, dabbling in cubism then onto a frenetic Jackson Pollack. In the musical museum of St. Louis County Library you can sample them all.
--Cindy F., Headquarters