annoyingly coy alt-pop songs sung by corduroy-draped girls trying to lay a boy in glasses
by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


Shelby Sifers - "Half-Naked and Knocking".
Shelby Sifers - "A Happy Love Song".

A good few weeks, these. The reasons are too many to count, but I can say that it was with joy I discovered the work of Beirut - and then more joy, less than a month later, when Shelby Sifers' Yeah And I'm In Love Too made its way to my door. The debut of this California songwriter is modest and unflashy, but absolutely beautiful. Gutsy and strange, and tender as fingers against your cheek. While Sifers' voice can often recall Joanna Newsom, it's Mirah's marvelous You Think It's Like This But Really It's Like That which these songs most recall. Love songs to find in your shoes in the morning, to sit with on a hillside.

"Half-Naked and Knocking" is something you need to nurse to adulthood. A few hard looks will be enough to wilt it away. So be kind, if you're listening; be kind. And if you are kind, if you provide sunshine and rain and maybe a little of your affection, if you sing clumsily along, something will sprout that's green as spring and fresh as kiss. The guitar-line is like something straight out of a Julie Doiron record, the duetting kid has been borrowed from a birthday party (does he have a schoolboy crush on the girl with the guitar?), and when the song does go toward the lonely - Sifers' voice louder, suddenly, and almost demanding, - it's an indignance that feels deserved. A hope that you hope for her too.

"A Happy Love Song" will strike you one of two ways. Either you will buckle under cuteness overload. Or... If you are in love, or something, then this song may feel not just appropriate but necessary - the only thing precious enough to express the googly gleam in yr heart. Sifers brings in some images you'd expect, and some sweet sounds you'd expect too, but then there's the gradual accumulation of shivery unexpected thoughts. Good thoughts, daring thoughts - a bravery to her love that feels far stronger than the twisty soft delivery. "And if I ever find another / well I still love you too! / And if you find another woman / well I'd move next door to you."

[buy yeah and i'm in love too for a disgustingly cheap $10]

(A few words on the complaint that "all [girl] singers sound like Joanna Newsom, nowadays". It's true to a point - out of the woodwork are all these women with unexpected voiceboxes, tulips twined with tongues. But whereas others hear aping, I hear just slightly strange singers. For years (indie?) rock's had male singers with unconventional voices - from Will Oldham to Isaac Brock, stretching all the way back to Bob Dylan or Neil Young, - but girls in general didn't have that liberty. There were pretty-voiced singers (from Jewel to Kate Bush to Rosie Thomas), and intense (mostly pretty) singers (from Janis Joplin to PJ Harvey to Cat Power), but that's it. With the critical and popular ascendancy of Bjork and, yes, Joanna Newsom, I feel like this is changing. Suddenly women with crooked voices are being heard out by kids, by critics, by labels, in a way they hadn't before. Yeah, there are similarities between Hanne Hukkelberg and Joanna Newsom, Conor Oberst and Will Sheff, but these are similarities in vocal style more than anything else. They don't sound like impersonators - just people experimenting in similar ways with their less-than-classically-perfect voices.)


I missed it when it first aired a few weeks ago, but there is an outstanding episode of Benjamen Walker's Theory of Everything (the podcast), with one man's tale of hating Conan O'Brien.

A new trailer for Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. Now with some dialogue! (Which actually makes me anxious.) But still - i cannot wait.

Posted by Sean at May 15, 2006 3:00 AM

"tulips twined with tongues" are too good, sean.

Posted by mag at May 15, 2006 3:59 AM

thanks, mag.

Posted by Sean at May 15, 2006 5:45 AM

Man, I have been making that point about female singers for years! Thanks so much for sayin it. Unconventional guy singers get away with murder in a million different departments, but a female singer hits a weird note and people freak out. Joni Mitchell would have been a freak-folker if she released a record today and probably on Locust Records or something and getting okay reviews in a couple of mags and that's it. It's a huge double standard. I know tons of women who don't even like women's voices. Weird.

Posted by Lucas Jensen at May 15, 2006 12:28 PM

What about Erykah Badu? Fiona Apple? Tori Amos? Not to quibble (much), but I think there are plenty of women with unusual/distinctive voices who have been in the spotlight for quite some time.

Posted by Andy at May 15, 2006 5:34 PM

It's with good reason I didn't use the word "distinctive", Andy! But Fiona Apple is totally a pretty singer, and Tori Amos is totally an "intense" one - she's one of the models in my head, in fact! What I am talking about are WEIRD and creaky-voiced people, girls with the sort of voices that more conservative listeners would simply hear as -bad-. None of those examples have a bearing on that.

Posted by Sean at May 15, 2006 5:42 PM

Ok, I hear you. While I might beg to differ on your Amos/Bjork distinction, I get what you're saying. Still stand by Badu, though, as at least one example outside of Bjork of a "crooked" vocal style that snuck through...

Posted by Andy at May 18, 2006 12:08 AM

I've no problem with unusual female voices, but I DO have a problem with the obscene overproliferation of WEAK female vocalists. I'm tired of ladies who sound like the only thing keeping their shadows from kicking their asses, stealing their lunch money, and setting off to find a more worthy body, is the laws of physics. I like the Gossip and the BellRays - not because the songs are OMFG-Best-Ever, but because they've got giveashit, they sing and hit the notes they want to hit, they shout and howl and rage about...

Posted by Akio at May 18, 2006 4:57 AM

Whereas I am usually bored, bored, bored by a vocalist like Neko Case, and much, much more interested in a singer like Julie Doiron or Ms Sifers.

Posted by Sean at May 18, 2006 5:02 AM


I think the really apt comparison for the Newsom would be Texas Gladden. She was recorded on her porch by Alan Lomax. When I first heard Newsom I was shocked to see how similar her voice was to Gladden. Newsom has surely heard Gladden( it is like that recording of "I used to have a good mother and father" by will Oldham, he mimics the inflection (and even mispronucations) of Washington Phillips' original) . That said, while she may be putting on her voice a bit, she picked a nice obscure reference that needed revisiting. She also writes darn fine lyrics.
So good on her, and the other female singers who are finding more room to express unique voices.

Posted by jay at May 18, 2006 12:37 PM

i'm enjoying these. thanks. it seems i'll be enjoying them for a while to come.

Posted by tim+ at May 18, 2006 1:23 PM

For "women with crooked voices," why go to Lomax-recorded folk? Wanda Jackson's vocals were crooked enough, and she had hit records, of a kind Oldham and ilk can only dream. For that matter, Yma Sumac (cough) had hits, too. Going back to the '20s, Mama Maybelle's Wildwood Flower sold a million freaking copies, and you cannot tell me this doesn't sound "bad" to the ears you're using as a criterion:

This is good stuff, but hardly newly unique. Don't make them labor under that load.

Posted by wcw at May 19, 2006 9:24 PM

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Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

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