When a diminutive, elfin, 22-year-old Joanna Newsom emerged out of rural California with her remarkable 2004 debut The Milk-Eyed Mender, it was as if she was from another time, if not another world. The classically trained harpist and positively idiosyncratic vocalist crafted a sound so singular that it traced medieval folk as closely as it did the avant-garde, propelling her to the head of the so-called ‘new-folk’ movement in the process. But as Newsom’s majestic 2006 sophomore, Ys, revealed so emphatically, the precocious artist was far more than a fashionable folkie. In fact, the record’s five expansive vignettes – orchestrated by the legendary Van Dyke Parks – cast Newsom not only as a truly innovative artist, but as a significant contemporary composer. After playing with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Opera House last year, she returns with her new band for what will prove to be an extraordinary performance.
One of the wonderful things about the last decade in music has been the loosening of both stylistic and methodological restraints. Where the 90s saw clear delineations running between indie music, electronica, hip-hop and so forth, the 00s have been about breaking down boundaries; mixing, matching and mutating schools of musical thought and process. You only need to turn to Animal Collective, Gang Gang Dance or Battles for evidence. London quartet The xx are the latest act to defy what was once set in stone. Released a couple of months back through XL/Remote Control, their xx debut witnessed stunning indie-pop tropes and interlocked R&B vocal harmonies skim atop a swathe of tectonic electronic frequencies and textures. Suffice to say, their inaugural run of Australian performances will offer a telling chronicle of music’s brave new frontier.
February 10, Bella Union Bar, Trades Hall
Singer, songwriter and pianist Frida Hyvönen is something of a star in her home country. The Swedish chanteuse’s intricately rendered, intensely personal song-craft saw her scale the heights of the country’s music industry, winning the prestigious Stockholm Prize for her 2005 debut, Until Death Comes, and garnering trans-continental acclaim for 2008’s beautifully orchestrated follow-up Silence is Wild. An arresting, hypnotic performer, Hyvönen will play one of only two intimate Australian shows at Trades Hall’s beautiful Bella Union Bar in February. Her towering vocals, meticulously composed songs and unabashed lyrical honesty are bound to change the way we think about Swedish pop.
February 13, The Corner Hotel
$38, Corner Hotel
Jamie Lidell has been experimental, white-boy soul’s poster boy for about a decade now, and with good reason. The Berlin-based vocalist’s work with Cristian Vogel in Super Collider – not to mention his own suite of solo albums for Warp Records – set new precedents in future-funk and neo-soul and saw him mash his prodigious vocal talents into the wildest of electronic soundscapes. On top of that, his one-man live show is legendary. Utilising a cache of samplers, microphones, cameras, effects pedals and general electronic flotsam and jetsam, Lidell will turn The Corner Hotel upside down and inside out. This squall of soul is not to be missed.