This week's curator: Jessica Suarez of Stereogum.
Every two weeks, titans of the mediasphere give Nerve their music recommendations. This week: Stereogum's Jessica Suarez.
I don't believe in acquired tastes or guilty pleasures. None of my picks are the latter, but I don't see them as the former either: they're just five albums, released in the past twelve months, with weird or unusual singers. These singers make me think of Nerve's list of sexy ugly people — the things that are repellent about them are the things I'm attracted to the most. Putting Yoko Ono on here is kind of deferring to the master. Ono once said, "Everybody's an artist… It's just that they're inhibited." I'll give the benefit of the doubt to her and these other four artists and say that their voices are not contrivances but the result of their uninhibited natures. All these artists sing in tune, but sound as if they missed or ignored vast eras of music history. (And, like, all of American Idol.)
1. Moonface, Dreamland EP: Marimbas and Shit-Drums
Moonface is Spencer Krug's mini-project, away from his main bands, Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown. In January he released Dreamland EP, featuring songs made up entirely of marimbas and terrible canned drums, mixed into a single, twenty-minute track. I don't like it as much as Wolf Parade's new album, or Sunset Rubdown's last one, but I listen to Dreamland a lot when I'm trying to focus; it's so minimal and repetitive that it helps. The whole EP is based on dreams he's had, and there's something feverish about it, as though he's sharing observations in real-time — a feeling that his line "I can say this and you'll believe" confirms.
2. WU LYF (World Unite / Lucifer Youth Foundation), Play Heavy Pop EP
WU LYF is an acronym that changes according to the mood of the band members. Sometimes it stands for the above, sometimes "What Up / Loving Young Females" (yuck), sometimes nothing at all. They're an intentionally mysterious band from Manchester, England — no names, no recordings except for some 12-inches and this EP, no real press photos or members' names. But they're a good band, even if you find the reclusiveness gimmicky. "Heavy Pop" is both their best song and an apt description of their sound. "Tortured," though it's over-used, is the correct adjective to describe the singer's voice. It doesn't just sound anguished; it sounds as if he's been abused all day, and the vocal is the last thing he did before collapsing.
3. Wild Beasts, Two Dancers
Kendal, England's Wild Beasts has two gifted singers, both able to hit devastating falsetto notes well above their natural ranges. They're odd, strange falsettos, too. I can't think of any other voices like them, except that they're like each other. This is more surprising considering their regular ranges (bassist Tom Fleming sings with a low baritone and Hayden Thorpe has a more fluid tenor). Just like people start to sound the same when they scream, the band's singers start to sound the same only when they're euphoric. Like their first album, Limbo, Panto, this one (which was just nominated for the Mercury Prize) mixes faded glamour with a sense of joyous depravity. But Two Dancers is structured in a way that places their vocal theatrics at center stage.
4. Scout Niblett, The Calcination of Scout Niblett
Scout Niblett works with Steve Albini a lot. I think he understands her anger more than her aesthetic. But she's not an Angry Woman in the screaming, cathartic sense. Most of Niblett's songs feature just her voice, her drums, and her guitar. Her tense whispering and resolutionless melodies make me feel as though there's an explosion waiting at the end of the next verse, but it never comes. In that way she's a lot like another Brit, PJ Harvey. It's no coincidence that Harvey made her best albums with Albini too.
5. Yoko Ono, Between My Head And The Sky
Yoko Ono headlined the Pitchfork Music Festival a couple years ago, and it was clear that she still divided people. Some audience members were rapt, others left to beat the traffic. Many in that first group (myself included) felt they were watching an icon rather than a working musician. That's why I was surprised when she released Between My Head And The Sky, the first album under the Plastic Ono Band name since 1975's Shaved Fish. Not many musicians in their seventies are this willing to jump back in the studio and try new genres. "The Sun Is Down," is my favorite because it sounds like LCD Soundsystem under Ono's own free-form lyrics and vocal ticks. It's amazing how well her squeaks and sighs fit with the song's squelchy keyboard.