The future is female. Yeah! The brilliant debut albums by St Vincent and Bat For Lashes prove it. Both are solo efforts disguised as bands: US multi-instrumentalist Annie Clark uses the moniker St Vincent and Pakistani-born Brit Natasha Khan is Bat For Lashes. Both are proficient musicians and singer/songwriters. They also have aggressive, inventive arrangements and smart lyrics that evoke the works of artier pop chicks like Björk, Kate Bush and PJ Harvey.
Twenty-five-year-old Clark has played with Sufjan Stevens’ band and is a member of The Polyphonic Spree. Her debut, Marry Me, is a dazzling piece of work. Her lyrics are both clever and dark and her guitar playing is expressively vibrant when playing off her soft, fluid vocals.
On “Now Now,” you really hear The Polyphonic Spree’s influence with the full-on girly choral chants swirling among sporadic arrangements. “I’m not your mother’s favourite dog,” Clark sings, “I’m not the carpet you walk on.” Near the end, she practically gets all Eddie Van Halen and lets loose on her guitar. Her guitar playing is bad cop to her good cop vocals.
The title track, “Marry Me,” is deliciously pretty with simple piano accompanying Clark’s delicate vocal. “Marry me, John I’ll be so good to you/ You won’t realize I’m gone.”
But she really wins you over with one of the best lines I’ve heard in sometime. “Oh John/ C’mon/ We’ll do what Mary and Joseph did/ Without the kid.” Very Mae West.
The album is full of pining romantic optimism. Clark comes across as an American Amélie. She yearns for love she’s a little scared and apprehensive, yet in her own dark quirky way, she’s ever so determined.
Twenty-eight-year-old Khan’s debut is called Fur and Gold. It was released last year in the UK and is just being released in North America to coincide with its recent best album nomination for the prestigious 2007 Mercury Prize. Khan comes from an eminent family of squash-playing Khans and was brought up in a strict religious household. While in university she majored in film and music and was heavily influenced by Steve Reich and Susan Hiller. It’s all artsy fartsy and wizardry… and it works!
She’s a surreal gal. The first track “Horse and I” is all out serious shit with marching drums and strings, with Khan letting out a few Sinead O’Connor screams as well.
“You are the chosen one/ There is no turning back.” She is kind of ridiculous but she’s ever so sincere. Her songs sound so good with all the varied instruments (banjo, marxophone, harp, vibraphone…) flying about. On the engaging “Trophy,” Khan duets with Lift to Experience’s gruff Josh T Pearson. They are a perfect match. “Heaven is a feeling I get/ In your arms,” they seductively sing.
Khan’s debut has that same magic that Björk’s debut album had when you first heard it. It’s alive. It has it’s own energy. And don’t start me on her goth Shangri-Las-like track “What’s a Girl to Do?” It’s just too good to be true.