It’s three releases from female solo artists this week. Two are sophomore records – Baltimore indie-rocker Snail Mail and London alternative R&B artist Tirzah both follow up their debuts. Both are worthy, but one is particularly great.
Meanwhile, veteran Tori Amos releases her sixteenth studio project. Listening to the Tori Amos album while out cycling, I was musing on her similarities to Kate Bush – something I think is pronounced on the new songs ‘Metal Water Wood’. Upon the thought, I was immediately passed by a car with the number plate ‘K BUSH’.
It’s difficult to believe that Lindsey Jordan is only 22 – she’s just delivered an enviable sophomore album that retains the strengths of her debut while expanding her sound. Valentine adds sonic candy like strings and synths – adding depth while not taking away her grit and authenticity.
Jordan tried unsuccessfully to write a sequel to 2018’s Lush while touring. When touring ceased due to COVID, she returned to her parents’ house in Baltimore and wrote much of Valentine. Her disaffected eloquence recalls The Replacements’ Paul Westerberg – both were raised Catholic, and both use the word “absolution” in a song.
Promisingly, the further Jordan strays from her core sound, the more striking the results are. There’s a bait and switch on the opening title track, with a poppy sound before the guitars kick in. ‘Ben Franklin’ was written during a stay in rehab and pits a glossy beat and sinuous bass line against tough guitars and a gritty vocal. Even more of a departure is the sophisti-pop of ‘Forever (Sailing)’, with its strings, while there’s a lovely middle eight on ‘Madonna’. Despite some genre-hopping, Valentine still forms a coherent whole and songs like ‘C. Et Al.’ are raw and heartfelt.
I’ve covered a lot of very good female American indie this year – there have been strong records from Flock of Dimes, Japanese Breakfast, and Lucy Dacus. But Valentine is the cream of the crop, an astoundingly accomplished album from a 22-year-old songwriter.
Ocean to Ocean
For my money, Tori Amos is one of the most impressive musical artists of the 1990s. In that decade she delivered the confrontational piano-pop of Little Earthquakes, the ambition of Boys For Pele, and the electronica-tinged From The Choirgirl Hotel. I haven’t kept up with her recent work but I was drawn back into the fold by the positive reception of her sixteenth album Ocean to Ocean. It was inspired by difficult recent events – Amos losing her mother, the Capitol riots, and lockdown. Amos has a lot to say on other subjects too – she tackles climate change on the title track – “There are those who don’t give a goddamn/That we’re near mass extinction.”
’29 Years’ revisits the same incident as 1992’s ‘Me and a Gun’, Amos trying to find closure through song. Musically, Ocean to Ocean recalls the tunefulness and direct arrangements of Little Earthquakes, the album which housed ‘Me and a Gun’. There’s a bunch of memorable songs – ‘Addition of Light Divided’ is a strong opening track with its pretty tune and piano. Amos is also inspired by the environment that she’s transplanted herself to – “the Cornish coast of England”, as she sings in the evocative ‘Swim To New York State’. Amos doesn’t enjoy comparisons to Kate Bush, but the 1980s tinge on the art-rock of ‘Metal Water Wood’ is certainly evocative of Kate Bush.
It doesn’t quite touch the imperiousness of Amos’ 1990s peaks, but Ocean to Ocean has plenty to say and is a pertinent reminder of Amos’ worth.
As a teenager, Tirzah Mastin was on the path to become a classically trained harpist But attending music school, she found more joy from the songs she created with classmate Mica Levi. Levi has enjoyed success as a musician, both in the worlds of pop and classical. In the meantime, Tirzah worked as a visual designer but linked up with Levi to release a debut album Devotion in 2018. Since Devotion, Tirzah’s had two children the press release for Colourgrade cites “a type of love that is shared between a mother and a child for the first time, whilst simultaneously working as an artist.”
Tirzah is back working with Mica Levi on Colourgrade, alongside Coby Sey, who duets with Tirzah on ‘Hive Mind’. Where Devotion was smooth and calming, Colourgrade pits Tirzah’s low-key, intimate vocals against jarring music. It sometimes tilts into firmly experimental territory, as on ‘Crepuscular Rays’, where the vocal effects are trippy and there’s less clear song structure. But usually, the combination is beguiling – whether the production is abrasive like on ‘Tectonic’ or pretty R&B on ‘Sink In’.
Colourgrade is beguiling,