FKA twigs – M3LL155X
M3LL155X is an EP released last year by iconoclastic artist, FKA twigs. The EP conjures a real atmosphere of strange, off-kilter darkness and the production is a huge part of that. Twigs has the chops to be a straight ahead R&B singer, as you’ll here when she gets the high notes on this record. But she’s too busy creating something entirely different; she takes her already unique voice and twists it, turns it, chops it and distorts it to create a sound like little else. It’s one thing to have a great voice; it’s another to know how to use it.
Lady Gaga – Artpop
Of late it seems that people are discovering that Lady Gaga actually has a great voice simply because she took the makeup off. I’m not sure of the connection there exactly; even when she’s doing her crazy performance art things, she’s got a great voice. But it’s more than just her range. It’s the way she delivers the vocals. It would be more fitting to say that she has multiple great voices: a snarl, a sneer, a high octane roar, a slurred groan. Listen to Dope; it’s all in the phrasing, the accents, the raw emotion.
Lorde – Pure Heroine
Lorde has a unique, preternatural “voice” in her song-writing as well. But it’s the sound of her actual voice that I’m talking about here. When Royals blew up, I remember thinking that it had been a while since I’d heard a female voice that strange on the top of the charts. It isn’t about her range, because she doesn’t exactly have a huge one; it’s not about the strength of her voice, because she doesn’t particularly have that either. It’s about the strange quaver, the odd tones, the brilliant phrasing. Lorde delivers the goods in a way only she could.
M.I.A. – Matangi
M.I.A. remains a great talent. She’s turned some people off of late with the abrasiveness of her sound, but it’s a clear artistic vision and she’s probably saying “good riddance.” On Matangi, M.I.A. uses her voice to its most strident effect. The music is loud, intense, dissonant; M.I.A. matches it with her voice. She’s a great rapper, with a lot of energy, and she’s always been in your face, but she’s never been as assaultive as she is here. Her voice is strident, harsh, abusive. Even when she settles down to actually sing, as on Come Walk With Me, there’s the hint of a straining fury waiting to be released.
Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady
Monae has the most generally aesthetically pleasing voice of any of the women on this list. She’s just a good old-fashioned R&B belter with a clear, high-pitched vocal. Her control is nothing short of stupendous and her tone is just . . . well, clear is the only way I know to say it. It’s just clean. But she has a good grasp of phrasing as well. Monae’s voice is one I’m always glad to hear.
Worst Female Vocalist
Odile Falcon – J’ai Ete Au Bal (I Went to the Dance), Vol. 1
Falcon only has one track on this album, which is a collection of Cajun music ranging from the twenties to the eighties. Falcon’s recording is an old one, of her squawking out a song in French acca pella . It’s one of the most annoying things I’ve ever heard, this thin, reedy, out of tune voice just squealing and snarling without any backup. Thank God, it’s only a bit over a minute.