I love music. I like smooth Jazz and R&B like Dianna Krall and Gregory Porter. I like the Blues of all kinds. Rock & Country Blues like Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, and Boz Scaggs. More conventional Blues like BB King, Muddy Waters, George Thorogood, and James Cotton. I love a bunch of the current Blues artists like Ben Harper, Dan Patlansky, and the amazing new kid on the block – Marques Knox. I like Pop & Rock like Dire Straits, Sting & the Police, Daft Punk, The Cars, and the B52s. I have a scary love for some Celtic music like Cara Dillon and Enya. I even like Classical music – when I’m in the right mood. But what really fascinates me is my obsession with Alternative artists like Fiona Apple, Jesca Hoop, Pina, Regina Spektor, and my new favourite Angus & Julia Stone.
So what is this preoccupation all about? If I consider Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine – a song and album that sounds like it should be part of a live stage musical. It’s quirky, the product of someone who has lived a troubled life. I find her unashamedly authentic. Someone who is true to herself in spite of criticism. The lyric: “But he’s no good at being uncomfortable, so He can’t stop staying exactly the same” seems to typify what she is against. This is something I connect with, the courage to go against the norm. Maybe that is what all outliers do. The people who are quirky, unique, special, and oh so talented. I think this is what fixates me, the outliers who are extraordinary machines. She follows this lyric with:
If there was a better way to go then it would find me
I can’t help it, the road just rolls out behind me
Be kind to me, or treat me mean
I’ll make the most of it, I’m an extraordinary machine
Jesca Hoop (yes that is spelled correctly), gripped me from my very first listen. Apparently her early mentor Tom Waits described her style as being “like a four-sided coin. She is an old soul, like a black pearl, a good witch or a red moon.” I love the playful simplicity of the perspective she brings in Pack Animal:
In the mirror
There you are again
Wearing my green eyes my brown hair and my aging skin
Then there is the incredible sensuality of Peace Maker, which frankly I’m pretty sure I don’t fully understand – but wow, the sensory delight of how the music and voice combine to feel so raw and true.
So is it only about the offbeat yet hauntingly real lyrics? Nope, I don’t think so. I don’t really recall any of the lyrics from Pina’s Guess You Got It, other than one of the tracks is called Brand New Face. She is an Austrian living in rural Ireland. She has a very unusual voice, to me she sounds a bit like Melanie of Brand New Key fame, an early 70s hit. Her unconventional style awakens something in me. The concept of being trained in the classics in Vienna but playing alternative folk-rock in West Cork really works for me. So is it just about being unusual or experimental? Well not necessarily – some of the more extreme experimental stuff really doesn’t do anything for me.
Haunting. Mesmerising. Captivating. That’s the best description I can come up with for Angus & Julia Stone’s music. They are a brother and sister duo from Australia. The music is dreamy. It makes me feel like I can be too. Her voice is unconventional. It makes me feel that I can be too. Maybe that is the connection I have with the alternative. It frees me to be alternative too. To not be boxed. To not have to be conventional. To be allowed to be a bit weird without disconnecting from reality. To be an outlier myself. To know that my brilliance is tempered with some real weaknesses and that its okay. It sets me free. It’s all about being free to be an outlier. Free indeed. Liberty – I love it!