essie jain

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Albums I Enjoyed in 2007 — 20 to 16

In handy table format!



20.
Essie Jain
We Made This Ourselves
Ba Da Bing
Disgrace

This year for me was all about harmony. I discarded almost everything that wasn’t in tune, and if there was a good harmony, I jumped on it with both feet. Which is not an appropriate metaphor for the delicate songs on an album with butterflies on it. But still.

Jain most closely resembles Dido without the beats; probably another reason I like her. But though her harmonies are sparing, they are transcendent. I’m not as fond of the lyrics, which are fairly ambiguous (perhaps punctuation would help), i.e. You’re a worthless thing / that is everything / but precisely / what I asked for. Still and all, the beauty of such songs as “Haze” tend to overshadow the weak lyrics.



19.
Angelique Kidjo
Djin Djin
Razor & Tie
Ae Ae

Representative of all the so-called world music that I picked up this year, but with celebrity status. Kidjo apparently toured with Josh Groban this year and gained legions of fans, so congrats to her. But I didn’t need Groban’s approbation to love the album, since it is gorgeous from the first chord of “Ae Ae” to the last clear note of “Lonlon,” Kidjo’s version of “Bolero.”

Readers of this blog will have already noticed that I wrote about Kidjo earlier in the year, so I won’t say more than, this is what Afropop is all about for me. I don’t understand the language so I can’t follow a message, and I’ll admit it; I’m just here for the sound, which Kidjo has in spades.



18.
Rocky Votolato
The Brag & Cuss
Barsuk
Whiskey Straight

You all know how I love me some Rocky. That said, I was not as enthused about this record as I was about “Makers.” Most of the songs sounded Rockyesque, but tired. Maybe all that tourin’ has been wearing him out a bit.

Standout tracks are “The Wrong Side of Reno,” which has a little bounce, and “Whiskey Straight,” which showcases his trademark stripped, straight-up lyric: Why do you keep running? The pace is hurried but you’re never closer to what it was you thought you wanted. It all keeps changing — and now something else is missing. Ain’t that the truth.



17.
The Bees (Band of Bees)
Octopus
Virgin
(This Is For the) Better Days

Half this album is so spot on with its poppy craziness. I chair-danced madly to “Who Cares What the Question Is,” probably about a thousand times. And when they stay in the footsteps of their predecessors, these guys hit the nail on the head. It took me two weeks and my husband to figure out what was nagging me about “Love In the Harbour” — it’s a dead ringer for something off of “On the Threshold Of A Dream.” Groovy! Not many people outside the Simpsons reference the Moody Blues anymore.

The Bees do a lot of genre switching, adding a sexy bass swing to “(This Is For the) Better Days” and a sitar (and a boingy-boingy thing, who knows what that is) to “The Ocularist.” And “End of the Street” is chock full of wicked weird noises. The album’s not perfect, and some of it fails, but honestly, it’s just so nice to hear a band having fun with music and all the genres that comprise it.



16.
PJ Harvey
White Chalk
Island
Silence

Everyone who’s anyone spent a lot of time with PJ in the 90s. She rang my earphones, growling even through my crummy walkman, and I growled right along with her. “Rid of Me” was my album of catharsis — I’m one fifty foot queenie; sheela-na-gig, you exhibitionist. So even though I couldn’t really expect the same of her, fourteen years later, I was still disappointed at the understatement of “White Chalk.” Excepting the heartbeat in “When Under Ether,” there is almost no beat, no growl. I missed the growl. Then I listened again to “White Chalk,” and I heard it.

I know these chalk hills will rot my bones, she says like a curse. Scratch my palms / there’s blood on my hands. It’s understated to the point of nonexistence, but it’s running through the songs just the same — the same loneliness, the same search for forgiveness and love. It’s the PJ I remember, docile perhaps on the outside in her white dress, but still growling.

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[Ed. note — with the release of “Marry Me” tomorrow, this post will be partially invalidated. But I wrote it, so I’m gonna post it. Nyah.]

Catching up with my RSS, I’ve been noticing the half-year summary posts popping up. Sadly I’ve also noticed that many of those lists feature no female bands, no albums from the ladies’ side. I won’t single anyone out, because taste is taste, and there are many great male bands that of course should be noticed as well. I’ll just do my little part to remedy the sitchyation.

“But Zara,” you’ll say, “what female releases were there this year? Gosh, I can only think of ‘The Reminder,’ and Feist is all anyone talked about for three months, and we’re boooooored of hearing ‘1,2,3,4’.” To you I say, you tried ‘Sea-Lion Woman,’ right? But also, I found that the first half of 2007 was chock full of female acts. In fact, if I had a top ten, probably 7 of them would be female. Cassadaga? Boring. Neon Bible? Meh. Hissing Fauna? Don’t get me started. Here are some albums that you might have overlooked in your zeal to rush out and buy “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.” *

01. The Postmarks – The Postmarks | Myspace

All right, I’m fudging this one because it’s female fronted — I swear this band ought to be called the Postcards, because it reminds me of how you feel when you get a postcard from Hawaii. No, I don’t mean envious. I mean, you close your eyes and for a second you’re standing on the beach and palm trees are rustling and a hammock sways slightly in the breeze and the ocean is impossibly blue.

02. Essie Jain – We Made This Ourselves | Myspace

Sometimes the songs on this album start to blur together, but the harmonies alone keep Jain soaring. I could listen to her all day, and I do, since she’s what’s playing in my car. If you need a comparison, think Dido without the beats.

03. Kristin Hersh – Learn To Sing Like A Star | Myspace

For many a long year I have listened to Ms. Hersh — she’s a songwriting powerhouse, not just a pretty voice who has two other bands. The new album is her first (solo) in four years, and it’s just ridiculously good. Ridiculously!

04. Cake On Cake – I Guess I Was Daydreaming | Myspace

This Swedish band is basically Helena Sundin, and yeah, it’s about as sweet as it sounds (extra!). But I’m really fond of the harmonies, the languid melodies, the simple phrasing. Who wouldn’t want to turn on “The One I Say Goodnight To” right before bed — You are the one I say goodnight to / Goodnight, my love. In the absence of my mother tucking me in, I’ll take Cake On Cake.

05. Sara Bareilles – Little Voice | Myspace

Think “Little Voice” in the same sense that Robin Hood said “Little John.” Bareilles sings pop-friendly tunes with strong piano backing, and she’s sassy. I like sassy — plus she’s a local girl, so yay for that. I have not heard all the album but there’s enough music available on her site to get a good sense of whether you’d like it or not (and I do).

06. Charlotte Gainsbourg – 5:55 | Myspace

I guess I can apply the term “chanteuse” to Gainsbourg, since she’s French, right? OK good, seriously, because she is so beautiful, and is also one of those rare actors who can actually sing, and she’s even featured on “Pocket Symphony.” My favorite song, “5:55,” sounds very Air-esque (because they wrote the music) but could that possibly be a bad thing? No, no it couldn’t.

07. Au Revoir Simone – The Bird of Music | Myspace

Even when they’re singing something called “Sad Song,” these three don’t sound very sad. “The Bird of Music” alternates poppy electronica and more gentle ballads. Sometimes it drags but overall it’s accessible and fun.

Other albums released that I’ve already written about —

08. Angelique Kidjo – Djin Djin
09. The Detroit Cobras – Tied & True
10. Amy Winehouse – Back To Black

Please give these albums a try! If I missed someone, you know where the comments button is.

*Or any other male-fronted band. Don’t get your boxers in a twist.

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Essie Jain

So how often do I hear a song from a random download and then go and get the whole album off of emusic without any second thoughts? Never, that’s how often. So it was a blogworthy day when I snagged “Glory” by Essie Jain from somewhere (I think perhaps G vs. B and I actually agreed on something for once).

Basically the internet fails me on Jain’s personal info — couple interviews and a scant bio (she’s British; last name of Wilkinson. Not that I want to know much more, I guess). However, the music speaks for itself. Think of stripped-down Portishead, mixed with a bit of Joni Mitchell and Dido, and adding in some fantastic harmonies. The music can’t be put in a genre category, which makes it truly indie, I suppose. It is slow and ambient, and will put some readers off with its easy pace; but I encourage everyone to give it a try, and you might just find yourself over at Emusic like me, buying a copy of “We Made This Ourselves.”

Essie Jain – Site | Myspace | Label (Ba Da Bing!)

Essie Jain – Loaded

Essie Jain – Disgrace

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