Leading ladies of the indie underworld

Nothing screams “grrrl power” more than the works of these four feisty songstresses. Unparalleled in strength of musicianship or depth of lyricism, these females truly define the avant-garde — going beyond the tame and the safe in an effort to transcend the patriarchal constructs of the commercial music industry. Britney Spears fans beware: This is not chick pop.

Mountains by Mary Timony

Mary Timony’s first solo release stands as the product of an artiste at her most self-indulgent and introspective. Mountains fuses modal melodies with Dickinson-inspired lyrics, producing pieces intensely intimate yet easily approachable. An amalgamation of medieval influences, Gothic self-berating and sparse instrumentalism, it’s not surprising Timony describes her work as strongly influenced by those in the “society for creative anachronism.”

Advisory Committee by Mirah

In terms of both musicality and lyrical maturity, Mirah’s second full-length release is far from sophomoric. With haunting vocals juxtaposed against a minimalist instrumental background, Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn produces a sound less “poppy” than her debut release. As an out-front lesbian Jewish songstress of the Left, Zeitlyn speaks from a perspective both intriguing and multifarious. Produced by Washington’s indie K Records, Mirah’s work exemplifies the label’s motto well: “Exploding the teenage underground into passionate revolt against the corporate ogre (since 1982).”

Girls and Boys by Ingrid Michaelson

Simple and straightforward, Ingrid Michaelson’s Girls and Boys provides easy listening for fans of female-driven indie-pop. With a sound more suited for swanky jazz clubs than the underground hipster scene, the New York-based singer-songwriter has acquired greater commercial success than Mirah, Cat Power and Timony combined. However (at least in Michaelson’s case), the artist’s commercial success does not equate with bubblegum pop: This East Coaster utilizes poetic sea imagery to express her deepest mental states, from being thrown “Overboard” in love to aquatic fantasies of escaping “Far Away” to “an island in the blue bay.”

The Greatest by Cat Power

This album exemplifies Chan Marshall’s (stage-named “Cat Power”) 10-year evolution from a sound both stilted and erratic (heard on her 1996’s What Would the Community Think) to a brilliant mixture of the jazzy and melodic. Recorded in Memphis with the aid of renowned studio musicians from her native Southern territory, The Greatest contains ballads full of nostalgia and woe, artfully narrated through Marshall’s breezy, seductive vocals. With brief stints in psychiatric wards and an on-again, off-again struggle with alcohol, this high school dropout sure has done well for herself — fully solidifying her place in the indie rock canon with The Greatest.

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