Two female pop stars provide wildly different but entertaining releases

David Sackllah

For those who couldn’t care less about the new Katy Perry album released Tuesday, last week, two women put together two wildly different yet intriguing releases that show what pop music actually sounds like in 2013.

Between the folk-rock of Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett on her new EP and the dark electronic-pop hybrid of Los Angeles artist Kelela on her new free mixtape, these rising artists are showcasing exciting music. 

The first of these two releases is The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas by Courtney Barnett, a collection of all her previously released material in the past two years available for purchase and streaming on her Bandcamp page. Barnett is the ultimate charming slacker, singing about how she is too lazy to even buy a television, with a wide range and a knack for great songwriting that fans of Liz Phair will enjoy. She adeptly shifts between indie pop on “Don’t Apply Compression Gently” to stream of consciousness folk-rock reminiscent of early Dylan on the incredible “History Eraser.” This all comes together on the standout “Avant Gardener,” a winding tale of the singer’s insecurities, as she sings about “having trouble breathing in” and doing “anything to take [her] mind from where it’s supposed to be.” The song, like the album as a whole, is expertly written and a great collection of art that fans of sharply written folk-rock will love.

For those who prefer their pop music on the darker and more futuristic side of the spectrum, there is nothing better than the free debut mixtape from Kelela, the electronic-pop star previously notable for collaborating vocals on dance tracks by groups like Teengirl Fantasy. Kelela’s debut, Cut 4 Me, combines the dark and boundary-pushing production of experimental dance artists, such as Girl Unit or Kingdom, with breezy pop that glides over the complex beats. Imagine if one of the Knowles sisters sang soaring hooks over the harsh yet enticing beats present on Kanye West’s Yeezus for an idea of what Kelela is doing on her mixtape. 

Songs such as “Enemy” or “Do It Again” feature production that is so slippery and tricky they could serve as intriguing cuts for the dance floors of underground clubs on their own. Kelela’s vocals ride in on top of the songs with such ease that she recalls the way Aaliyah would expertly sing over Timbaland’s tricky beats, but updated for 2013. Cut 4 Me is a wildly inventive debut that is incredibly enticing, showing what forward-thinking pop music truly sounds like. 

There are plenty of great female musicians making great pop music in 2013, from the ’90s inspired musicians in Waxahatchee and Speedy Ortiz to the electronic pop of artists such as FKA twigs and CHRVCHES. Barnett and Kelela may be doing it in different ways, but on their debuts, they show how much more there is to contemporary pop music than what can be heard on the radio.