With great Veracode hackathons come more Exfiltration Radio episodes. This time around, I have a playlist of indie/alternative/etc. rock with female voices that I’ve been building for a few years. Only I didn’t realize it.
The original version of this playlist had basically the same intro as the final version but segued into a hip-hop and funk set halfway through. While it made sense from a musical and beat perspective, something bugged me about it, and that something revealed itself over the past few weeks as the half-forgotten memory of an observation my sister made about some of my mixes twenty years ago: that they were heavy on dudes with guitars, or dudes, period.
I’d say the rethinking of this playlist was worth it, as it made me listen more closely to what the songs had to say. And they aren’t shy. Let’s begin with Caroline Polachek. In her 2020 solo spot on KEXP, she comes across as thoughtful, deep, a little shy. There’s all of that in “Welcome to My Island,” but there’s also a huge self-confidence on display, along with a magnificent set of pipes and what she has called “brattiness,” a.k.a. a well-earned swagger.
I have been listening to Dum Dum Girls for almost ten years—long enough for lead singer Dee Dee (née Kristin Gundred) to release her solo debut in the meantime. I came on board with the Too True album, and it’s a piece of work. It reminds me of William Gibson’s description of AIs battling AIs in Neuromancer, in a passage that seems prescient now: “He … swung the program in a wide circle, seeing the black shark thing through her eyes, a silent ghost hungry against the banks of lowering cloud.” Which is to say, the song is sleek, fast-moving, and ready to take precious things from the unwary.
“Headspins” has been in my playlists for almost as long. Forming in 2012 and breaking up in 2018, the band (formed in London by Australian ex-pats) does a fine job of updating the sound of the Breeders and bringing them into the 21st century.
If you haven’t heard “Chaise Longue” by Wet Leg, you’re welcome. If you’ve heard it a million times, this is your opportunity to revel again in the slyly dadaesque innuendo of the verses, as well as the sheer joy of the guitar work.
It took me a while to get into the latest St. Vincent, a deeply personal work about her father’s release from prison, partly because of her artistic choice to lean into a 1970s-inspired set of styles throughout the record. But there’s nothing wrong about the funk that drives “Pay Your Way in Pain,” to say nothing of the deep discomfort just below the surface of the lyrics.
“So Unreal” is the oldest track on the mix. Post-punk has been a reliable well of inspiration for me, albeit one that gives me no small amount of impostor syndrome. After all, I was alive and listening to music when the Creatures formed their splinter group off of Siouxsie and the Banshees, but wasn’t nearly hip enough to know they existed.
Originally, “Kyoto” was the pivot point of this mix, and a different version of it followed up Phoebe Bridgers’ meditation on jet lag and alienation set to a brass section straight out of an old Beulah record with Thundercat’s “Tokyo” and a general pivot into 21st century funk and electronica. But I decided against taking what was, for me, the easy path; hopefully you’re as glad as I am.
“Silk” has been on this mix since it came up on a random shuffle through my music while I was blowing snow one bright winter day. I dearly love Wolf Alice on the basis of this early album and am almost afraid to listen future iterations of their sound. I might have said the same of Neneh Cherry, having been a huge fan of her first few albums but not closely following her since then. Broken Politics is a pretty darned impressive follow-up, albeit one more closely related to the remixes of “Move With Me” than to the funk of “Buffalo Stance,” and “Black Monday” is a pretty spectacular representation of the album’s pleasures.
Soccer Mommy (aka Sophia Allison) made one of the quintessential albums of the early pandemic years with Color Theory, and a slightly brighter version of the same introspective sound is in her latest release. By contrast, Liz Phair’s Soberish appears to have come and gone without an impact, which is a shame as I think the songwriting on it is as strong as anything since Whitechocolatespaceegg.
And then there’s Sales, whose “Pope is a Rockstar” probably would have languished in limbo were it not for TikTok, where mondegreen readings of the title as “go little rockstar” made the song go viral. But on its own it’s a woozy hybrid between indie pop and, maybe, surf rock? There’s something in those guitars, is what I’m saying.
I fell in love with Laura Marling a few years ago, on her album Once I Was an Eagle, which featured prominently on my 2013 mix “Something Other Than Regret.” Her most recent album, Song for Our Daughter, takes the stark template of that sound and layers on Laurel Canyon harmonies that go on for days, especially on this track.
Lavender Diamond, aka Becky Stark, is another artist who appeared on that 2013 mix, and promptly disappeared until their 2020 album Now is the Time. All the hallmarks of the sound are there — the high vocals, the chord progressions out of an evolved version of the American Songbook — but where their 2012 album Incorruptible Heart dwelt in heartbreak, the new album seems to seek out hope behind horror.
One of the newest tracks on the album, boygenius’s “$20” from their debut LP The Record is a sublime and angry tune about the desperate need to escape the ordinary, with layered and shifting vocals from Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker. It’s stunning. The following tune, from the final Low album before Mimi Parker’s tragic death from cancer last year, underscores and reinforces all the themes with its own harmonies, but the anger is replaced with resignation and sadness. “Always looking for that one sure thing/Oh, you wanted so desperately.”
The final track is something of a lost gem: the final cut from the debut album of Eggplant, released in 1996. While most of the songs on the London trio’s indie rock driven album nod to punk with short run times and brisk beats, the final song, “We Only Wanted to Be Loved,” is a heartbreaker of a ballad. The trio deserved better than the oblivion their records found on initial release; here’s hoping they get a good afterlife via the Bandcamp rerelease of their music.
I hope this show brings you some sounds you haven’t heard before and makes you think—or move your booty, or both. The full track list is below:
- Welcome To My Island – Caroline Polachek (Desire, I Want To Turn Into You)
- Rimbaud Eyes – Dum Dum Girls (Too True)
- Headspins – Splashh (Comfort)
- Chaise Longue – Wet Leg (Wet Leg)
- Pay Your Way In Pain – st. vincent (Daddy’s Home)
- So Unreal – The Creatures (A Bestiary of (Spectrum))
- Kyoto – Phoebe Bridgers (Punisher)
- Silk – Wolf Alice (My Love Is Cool)
- Black Monday – Neneh Cherry (Broken Politics)
- Feel It All The Time – soccer mommy (Sometimes, Forever)
- In There – Liz Phair (Soberish)
- Pope Is a Rockstar – SALES (Sales Lp)
- Held Down – Laura Marling (Song For Our Daughter)
- This Is How We Rise – Lavender Diamond (Now Is The Time)
- $20 – boygenius (the record)
- Days Like These – Low (HEY WHAT)
- We Only Wanted To Be Loved – EGGPLANT (Catboy/Catgirl)
We have taken control, and we will return it to you as soon as you are exfiltrated.