My favourite-ever magazine, Paste‘s Kate Kiefer just conducted her own list of the best voices in indie rock list on the ‘List of the Day’ blog on the magazine’s website (it can be found here if anyone’s interested: http://www.pastemagazine.com/blogs/lists/2009/09/best-voices-in-indie-rock.html). It inspired me to make my own list of my favourite ten — though, narrowing it down to just ten is hard — there are so many good ones! To narrow down though, I’m going to stick with solely-contemporary artists (I guess Joni Mitchell doesn’t count, though if she did, she would OBVIOUSLY top this list) and artists that are alive (sorry Elliott Smith and Jeff Buckley).
1. Topping the list is my forever-favourite (though a bottom-of-the-barrel for many, many others), Ryan Adams. His falsettos are sometimes soft, sometimes howling, sometimes MANIC (for the best example of this, listen to 29‘s title-track). He can also hit these beautiful, gravelly lows. When Ryan rocks, he ROCKS but when he’s sad the sadness drains my soul. His voice is passion-laden and transformative and versitile; there are so many sides to Ryan’s voice. I love all of them.
2. Leona Naess comes in at a close second after her former-beau. Her voice breaks like Sarah Mclachlan’s does, only it is somehow softer and less intense making her demeanor shyer and sadder and more intimate. There is no grandeur to her vocals, just simple rises and falls. Yet sometimes, she emits a passionate growl and it is truly glorious. Whenever I listen to Thirteens or her self-titled record (also noteworthy is the Thirteens rarity “No Boys”), I am envious of her superior vocal talents. This woman is amazing.
3. I read an article once saying that Ray LaMontagne started singing while working as a cobbler and hearing Crosby, Stills and Nash on the radio, wishing he could sing like them, and then picking up the guitar and giving it a shot; this story sticks in my mind as the awakening of true genius. While I find some of LaMontagne’s music to be lacking in a lot of intensity and depth, his voice… DAMNNNNNN… it oozes just.. everything. There are those soft, whispery verses and high-intensity, high-volume growls and that rasp is just infectious in passion and love and musicality. Anytime, anywhere, if I heard a song by Ray LaMontagne on the radio, I would instantly know it was him. I love this man.
4. While she topped Kiefer’s list, Brandi Carlile is fourth on my own. She has this incredible power to her voice that she only uses at the most opportune times. The beauty of Carlile’s voice is both in her soft, yearning vulnerability and her girl power kick-in-the-guts moments (“The Story” – GOD GOD!)
5. The thing about Regina Spektor is that she not only sings, but she uses her voice as a bloody instrument, making sounds and music and backbeats with just her vocal chords. But when she hits those highs, I just close my eyes and sigh a thank-you up to the music Gods. Regina Spektor writes quirky music that is great, but would only be half as much without her vocal talent.
6. Desperation. That’s the word that comes to mind whenever I hear Damien Rice‘s O or 9 Crimes. Desperation to find the meaning of life and love and ask that “why?” question. While Rice sings with this uplifting gritty passion, there is a deep, haunting darkness behind that soaring, leaving me with that cold pain in my chest. Oh, Irish tenors.
7. Joshua Radin may not be known for his amazing vocals but the silvery, chime-like quality to his voice is one of few that can both make me smile with cute warm fuzzies, and also sing me into a deep pensive sleep.
8. I know I should count them as two, but The Swell Season’s Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova tie for eigth place because of not only their separate vocals but what they do as a team. The depth of their harmonies, the richness of their combined talents and their voices as individuals; Hansard is more overtly powerful with his clear, strong voice and Irglova is more quietly powerful with her huskier whispers, chiming in at just the right times. A little cliched as it is now, “Falling Slowly” is a tear-jerker but as beautiful as that song is, half of that emotional quality is in the harmonies.
9. I saw Patrick Watson in concert a few months ago and it changed my world around. Like Joshua Radin, he has that soft-whisper quality to his voice, but the falsetto makes it unique and powerful. Listening to Watson on a record isn’t even remotely the same as seeing him in concert.
10. Whether with Monsters of Folk, Bright Eyes or on his own, there’s nothing but grit to Conor Oberst‘s voice. When he gets angry, he gets angry. And when he’s sad, you can hear the sadness in audible clarity.