Maybe it’s the years I spent listening to Whitney Houston growing up, or some latent mother issues that I’ve yet to sort out, but I have a special thing for bands with female frontwomen. Although there are no shortage of them (or top-ten lists thereof), some stand out from the rest. From Brooklyn to Scandinavia, here are some of the great bands that sport noteworthy lead singers.
Monica Martin of Phox: This six-piece indie-folk band out of Baraboo, Wisconsin, had a big year in 2013, playing Lollapalooza and SXSW. See them live if you can, because Monica Martin rocks. She has a velvety-smooth voice that inspires, a set of pipes that can turn your Monday commute around. The band released their self-titled debut album in June; it features some of the best clarinet I’ve heard on an indie album (bet you didn’t see that coming). [Listen on Soundcloud]
Juliana Ronderos of Salt Cathedral: Indie-electronica. Colombian-tribal. Brooklyn-based. That’s a perfect storm. Juliana Ronderos’ distinct voice and stage presence make this band a definite winner. [Listen on Soundcloud]
Asli Omar of The Tontons: H-town, represent! They’ve been called the “greatest band in Houston,” and real they keep it. Asli Omar is a born performer. She slides around stage leaning against her counterparts with friendly intimacy, running her hands through her bodacious ‘fro and wrapping herself in the mic chord as she belts harmonies over the crash of drums, bass and tastefully used guitar effects. [Listen on Soundcloud]
Monica Birkenes, a.k.a. Mr. Little Jeans: This Norwegian-born indie-pop princess stole my heart when she decided to take her stage name from a character in the Wes Anderson film Rushmore. The whimsical, charismatic songstress has enjoyed some commercial success recently, most notably in Hewlett Packard and Ace Hotel ads. The song you might know is the fuzzy guitar-soaked, stuck-in-your-head-all-day “Angel” which you can check out here (threw in a remix just for fun).
Phaedra and Elsa Green of The Casket Girls: These ladies have powerful, moving voices to go along with their obvious songwriting chops. [Listen on Soundcloud]
Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon: Scandinavian women have got it going on, generally.This indie electronica group they hit it big in 2011 with an awesome collaboration with British producer SBTRKT, putting out the trunk-thumpin’ song “Wildfire”. They’ve also collaborated with Damon Albarn on the Gorillaz album Plastic Beach. Yukimi Nagano has a driving, soulful voice that you can really get a feel for on the track “Klapp Klapp,” from their 2014 release Nabuma Rubberband.
Joahanaa and Klara Soderberg of First Aid Kit: This Swedish duo hit it big covering Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song“ on YouTube, and they’ve been snowballing ever since. Now they enjoy the touring company of Conor Oberst and Jack White—all while opting out of high school to hit the road. Expect big things from them, and check out their song “Emmylou”, which Rolling Stone included in its Top 10 singles of 2012.
Angelica Bess of Body Language: Put on your dancing shoes and double-knot them, because this band brings the funk. If you live in NYC, you might already know about them, because they sell out local shows pretty often. If not, definitely check them out if you like indie-disco/synth-pop/I-dare-you-not-to-dance-while-listening-to-them/even-if-you-don’t-dance-just-bop-with-it. While Bess shares the mic on a lot of songs, she brings an electric, exciting vibe when she has it all to herself. [Listen on Soundcloud]
Angel Olsen: Her voice is dark and brooding, always enchanting. She hails from St. Louis, Missouri, but has spent the last few years perfecting her lyricism in Chicago. Her latest album, Burn Your Fire for No Witness, is one of our favorites. Her songs make you feel like you’re sitting around a fire hearing ancient tales of lost love and grief. [Listen on Soundcloud]
Molly Hamilton of Widowspeak: Closing out this list is Molly Hamilton, another haunting, melodic singer that leads the NYC-based group Widowspeak. This is indie pop that’s dialed back a bit, good for road trips and lying around your room. The band went into seclusion in the Hudson River Valley to record their LP Almanac. You can really hear the effect that the injection of wilderness—and lack of bars—had on this magical album. [Listen on Soundcloud]