Kleenex Girl Wonder just released 13th LP The Comedy Album. Graham Smith, who’s been making pan-genre pop rock in bedrooms, studios, forests and everywhere in between under the KGW name with various people since 1994, joins MAGNET as guest editor this week. Climb inside his skull as he figures out what it’s all about, whatever “it” may be.
Smith: There’s a weird blip in the progression of my influences. Up until a time that I can’t pinpoint (roughly within the last 10 years), I basically never listened to female singers and songwriters. I mean, there were some exceptions, but they mostly proved the rule that I was a male-singer kind of guy. Then, gradually but also mostly all of a sudden, all of my favorite records were made, or at least helmed, by women.
I guess it would be nice to believe that this changeover synced up with a trend in the music industry in general, but looking back it doesn’t really seem like that’s the case. There has always been a relatively good mix of male and female singers and songwriters (I wish I could get away with abbreviating this, but nothing seems natural, so you’ll just have to bear with me and I’ll do my best to minimize the occurrences) of some renown. To be clear, there are still plenty of bands that I like that have male frontispeople (this is a word I just made up that I shall never abbreviate). It’s just that my favorites are most often women, across a relatively disparate range of styles.
I guess there may be an identifiable shift-point: In 2007, I recorded an album called Mrs. Equitone (which came out in 2009) that had a couple of relatively unusual conceits. I have never revealed these publicly (well, maybe I mentioned something at some point, and also, it’s not like I have people chasing me down on the street, screaming, “Please reveal your albums’ conceits to us!”), but here they are.
First of all, I wanted to make it a song-by-song response to Ponyoak, the 1999 album whose spectre continuously haunts me as I try to improve upon it in the ears of my listening public (for the record, I am very sure that I have succeeded on this account over and over within my own ears). I eventually cut the track count down to 20, partially because I had 20 good songs and didn’t feel a strong need to make any more, partially because I thought this conceit was a little too self-mythologizing/aggrandizing/aware/whatever and didn’t want it to distract from what I thought was a pretty good album on its own merits.
The second conceit was that it was a concept album about feminism. That’s the easy way of putting it, though it’s not entirely accurate—a concept album about feminism would be, strictly, an album about the history of women’s rights (or lack thereof), of activism, of sisterhood and all kinds of other stuff that frankly I am not very qualified to speak on (or, even more frankly, convinced would make for an enjoyable listen, even/especially if I were a published expert in the field). It’s really about how I view the ongoing struggle of women in the western world, the bullshit that they have to put up with, the hopelessness I imagine they must (and see that they do) feel. It’s not the most overbearing concept album in the world by a long shot; lots of the songs deal with these ideas in metaphor, because that’s the mode I am most comfortable operating in. This conceit too was not something that I felt I needed to sound a yawp from the rooftops about, fraught as it is with all kinds of connotations, and given the fact that I could very easily fail to contribute anything meaningful to the conversation, or worse.
It would make sense if that album’s development coincided with this shift in my preferences, but I guess it doesn’t really matter; it definitely happened, and I am very glad that it did. It’s always nice to find yourself open to new music that you can enjoy. In celebration of this, here are some of my favorite albums by (or prominently featuring) awesome women in the past dozen years or so.
Angel Olsen, Burn Your Fire For No Witness
Joanna Newsom, Divers
Buffy Sainte-Marie, Power In The Blood; also everything she’s ever done
Deerhoof, Offend Maggie; and all the others too
Eleanor Friedberger, New View
CHVRCHES, Every Open Eye
Ida Maria, Fortress Round My Heart
Imogen Heap, Sparks
Hop Along, Painted Shut
tUnE-yArDs, Nikki Nack
Joan As Police Woman, The Deep Field
Rihanna, Loud and Unapologetic
Marnie Stern, The Chronicles Of Marnia
Lana Del Rey, Born To Die
Nellie McKay, Pretty Little Head
The Breeders, Title TK
Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers, Teenage And Torture
Nicki Minaj, Pink Friday
Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine (the unreleased versions of the songs)
I’m sure I’ve left some really great ones out, but this is a good place to start if you’ve never heard these records. And yeah, it’s a little weird to separate stuff out by this gender binary, but it’s fun to make a list of good records, and I explained why it’s relevant up there, so hey, I don’t need to apologize too much. Glad to have a discussion about it with you if you feel like it. Always.