Today is a big day for women in synth music. There are three new albums out today from women and female-fronted projects that warrant your attention. Each of these women comes from wildly different backgrounds and brings fresh, unique perspectives to dark electronic music.
The music scene I cover is largely dominated by men, and each time I compile one of my best-of lists I find myself disappointed that only one or two women are on the list. So I’ve been intentionally seeking out more female artists.
Many of my favorite songs this year feature talented women songwriters, producers, and vocalists: Pixel Grip, Czarina, Kanga, Zanias, and Nuovo Testamento, to name just a few. I hope to add songs from these three albums to this year’s favorites.
Halsey — If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
Pop star Halsey shocked the music world when they announced that their new album would be produced by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails. I only know of Halsey from a generic Chainsmokers song, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The bold collaboration pays off big time. If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power is a startling record about “the joys and horrors of pregnancy and childbirth” that is equal parts pop and unsettling NIN soundscapes.
Standout track: Given the broad pedigree behind If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, it’s a bit all over the place. My favorite moments are those that most resemble Downward Spiral-era NIN—there are at least three songs that sound like “Hurt.” But the standout track for me is “I Am Not a Woman, I’m a God,” in which Trent and Atticus pile on pulsating synth layers while Halsey belts out the album’s catchiest and most powerful chorus.
Kat Von D — Love Made Me Do It
Tattoo artist and TV personality Kat Von D has been dabbling in music for a while now—she’s contributed vocals to IAMX’s “Stardust” and Gunship’s “Black Blood Red Kiss,” two songs I really love. So it’s no surprise that she’s finally released a full-length debut album. Her primary songwriting partner on Love Made Me Do It is big hit-making producer Linda Perry, though Kat Von D has steered her into a darker, synth-driven direction.
Standout track: I’m still digesting this album, and the pre-release singles “Enough” and “Exorcism” are excellent showcases of Kat Von D’s diverse influences that include gothic-pop and synthwave. But a familiar voice bled out of my headphones on my first listen this morning. Gothic icon Peter Murphy of Bauhaus contributes vocals to “Protected,” a beautiful, mid-tempo piece that finds the two singers awash in sparkling synth lines.
Chvrches — Screen Violence
The Scottish trio led by frontwoman Lauren Mayberry is one of the biggest synthpop bands in the world. As Chvrches’ popularity has grown and Lauren has spoken out about feminist issues, she’s faced a barrage of criticism online, most of it rooted in misogyny. On Screen Violence, she tackles many of those messages head-on—the album’s title is a double-entendre alluding to horror movies and the most toxic elements found online.
Standout track: I love the first two Chvrches albums, but the third was a big miss for me that traded in their clever lyrics and stellar synths for lazy songwriting (“get, get, get, get out”). I am disappointed to report that Screen Violence is not connecting with me upon first few listens, but perhaps it’s a grower. The one shining moment so far is opening number “Asking for a Friend,” which defies traditional verse-chorus-verse song structure for an anthemic “you still matter” refrain that captures the old Chvrches magic.