SPELLBINDING VOICES Part 2: a play list of ‘Voices that fill the Room’
“Hope There’s Someone” – Antony Hegarty
I Am A Bird Now – Antony & The Johnsons
“Hope there’s someone who’ll take care of me when I die” is about as stark, direct and impassioned a plea to start a song with as you’ll hear. The nakedness of Antony Hegarty’s vocal creates a feeling of hope in the face of sadness.
Antony cites Kazuo Ohno, the Japanese dancer who became a guru and inspirational figure in the dance form known as Butoh, as his ‘art parent’. Butoh was a reaction in part to the horrors of the Second World War – although the dance is said to emerge from a place of universal love.
It is this contrast of horror or sadness against hope or love that can be heard in Antony’s vocal musings. His singing moves effortlessly and randomly through the notes at irregular timings. His control and delivery of variation in tone, phrasing and timing, sounds like a soul exorcizing it’s demons through every available channel – sounds that beg to be shared. (LW)
??? – Elizabeth Fraser
Whales Tails – Cocteau Twins
A strange phenomena with some Scottish pop singers is that you don’t have any difficulty in understanding their lyrics when they sing in English, but you really have to concentrate to hear what they’re saying when they speak the language (Jim Kerr of Simple Minds, Marti Pellow of Wet Wet Wet or Sharleen Spiteri of Texas spring to mind).
With Elizabeth Fraser, the Scottish lead-singer of the Cocteau Twins, it’s actually quite the opposite. In one of her rare interviews you can clearly hear what she is saying but in her early Cocteau Twins lyrics you can’t. This is because she compiles her lyrics by words that she finds going through bits in dictionaries written in languages that she doesn’t understand. By doing this Fraser creates an abstract language where the idea is to find a combination or a rhythm of words that together form an interesting sound rather than a meaning. 
What is so miraculous about her voice (which has been described to her own embarrassment as the ‘Voice of God’) – is that Fraser is able to make lyrics that have no meaning so poignantly gripping. When you search for the lyrics of the Cocteau Twins song ‘Whales Tails’, songlyrics.com says: “We don’t have the lyrics of this song. Please add these lyrics for other users” (Kudos to the person who would be able to transcribe them). When Fraser’s starts to sing ‘Whales Tails’ with her dreamlike, heavenly soprano voice, it immediately gets under your skin.
Fraser’s methodology of writing lyrics was borne out of her lack of courage to sing in English; she felt inadequate as a lyricist – but in later Cocteau Twins albums she started to write lyrics in English that people could comprehend. That led to some intimate and personal lyrics, for example the Cocteau Twins single ‘Bluebeard’, and some grieving lyrics, for example, Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’. It also led to criticism from hardcore Cocteau fans, as they accused the band of selling out as you could now understand the lyrics and they believed that the band’s biggest asset was Fraser’s ethereal voice and her incomprehensible and obscure lyrics. (TS)
“You’re my kinda climate” – Neneh Cherry
You’re my kinda climate – Rip, Rig & Panic
‘You’re my kinda climate’ by the post punk free-jazz collective Rip, Rig & Panic is one of the very early songs where Neneh Cherry’s distinct voice can be heard in all its glory. Once heard it will not easily leave your head. The song’s opening rant is not far removed from the styling and occurrence of ‘Buffalo Stance’, though Neneh’s voice has grown and gained depth.
Cherry is also known for her duet with Youssou N’dour (Seven Seconds) and her vocal contributions to other artists songs such as The The (Slow Train to Dawn) and Massive Attack (Big Wheel), where her voice lends a warm blanket of feminism to the lyrics. The real specter of her vocal strength can be heard on her three main albums, blending pop, dance, and hip-hop, alternative rap and trip-hop. (MH)
“She’s your Little Voodoo” – Siouxsie Sioux
Voodoo Dolly – Siouxsie and the Banshees
“She’s your Little Voodoo”, is a song that is at times irritating and then again fascinating for its vocal performance. Before Siouxsie and the Banshees’ fourth album ‘Juju’, Siouxsie Sioux’s distinct and commanding voice sang of social ruminations on fractured lives and situations.
The songs on that album are gloomy and mysterious, and the often otherworldly lyrics don’t make much sense on the surface. Given closer consideration, her concealed chants paint a scary picture. The weirdness of “Voodoo Dolly” (‘Juju’) resonates in her song structure and it underlines that Siouxsie’s embrace of various styles in the later days of her career remain a reference for various performers, with her influence stretching over a period of more than 40 years. (MH)
“Out on the Wiley” – Kate Bush
Wuthering Heights – Kate Bush
When she sang ‘Out on the Wiley’, the first line of ‘Wuthering Heights’, the public was introduced to an otherworldly voice that grabbed everyone’s attention. Kate Bush has possibly the most polemic voice on our play list. For some people, her theatrical way of singing in the upper vocal range makes the hair on their necks stand up, whilst others are just plain mesmerized by it.
Throughout her career, Bush has used many vocal strategies as summed up by Sasha Frere-Jones in The New Yorker: “strobing vibrato, whispering, shrieking, flinty high notes that enter an octave above your expectation”.
These strategies are an integral aspect of her performances in which she conveys the feelings and ideas behind the songs – she pushes the ideas as far as possible. She has tried to impersonate a mule (‘Get Out of My House’), and she didn’t shy away from dressing up like Red Sonja armed with a sword in ‘Babooshka’, or wearing an army camouflage uniform in ‘Army Dreamers’.
Bush considers herself more as a writer than a musician. Her lyrics are sometimes quite perturbing as they include taboo subjects such as gender, violence, incest and suicide, which are inspired by Greek mythology, horror stories and of course novels, as her overwhelming debut-single was based on, and named after, Emily Brontë’s famous book. (TS)
This Play list has been compiled by Marcel Harlaar, Louis Warner and Thierry Somers (08/2011)
Drawing of Antony Hegarty: Jimmy Turrell http://jimmyturrell.com
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