I am not going to tell you that Sally Ellyson’s voice is perfect. You wouldn’t have to search long for singers with better pitch, tone, range, or phrasing. Even if rich within its range, the emotions she can express are limited — you’re not going to hear Hem doing may upbeat, euphoric songs. Theirs is the music for the night after a breakup, or for the days when melancholy feels like a familiar friend.
Yet, for all its imperfections, I find it irresistibly beautiful. It could not be any different, and I wouldn’t wish for it to be.
The story behind Hem is revealing. Apparently Ellyson, who had no experience as a singer, left a tape of lullabies Dan Messé, the band’s principle songwriter, which he accidentally listened to when he clicked play on the wrong tape deck. Ever since, he’s been unable to get her voice out of her head, and it’s the only voice he hears when he writes. My experience with her voice is similar: once I hear it, I cannot get it out of my head.
This is not uncommon. Certain voices resonate for me in ways that I cannot explain. All I know is that when I hear them, I am instantly pulled in and the world melts away a little. The voice becomes my world, and all else is periphery. Ellyson’s is onl one such voice.
Chet Faker’s is another. If you can get past the silly name, and the impressive beard (which is difficult, because it’s really big), you’ll may be surprised by what you hear. Consider this Burial song:
I’m going to steal Glyph’s words on Burial:
His songs also often feature two other prominent recurring elements: a patina of vinyl hiss and crackle; and samples of the sort of singing you might hear in a euphoric club tune, only here they are submerged or blurred; the voices pitch-shifted and digitally-slivered into vaporous androgynous fragments.
Here he uses these elements to create something haunting and ethereal. In Faker’s hands, however, the same song becomes a gritty, soulful question:
(By the way, is that drummer for real?)
Coincidentally, the context in which I first heard Faker was much closer to Burial than his scaled-down live cover of “Archangel”:
This brings to mind two other electronic R&B collaborations featuring voices I find irresistible. SBTRKT and Sampha:
And SBTRKT featuring Jessie Ware:
Even better is Ware with Sampha:
In these songs, Ware’s voice is subdued, in the first by SBTRKT’s bloops and bleeps, and in the second in matching Sampha’s airiness, but when she lets it go, Ware’s voice really may be perfect:
This might be a bit too straight pop for some of you, but if you like Frank Ocean, I recommend checking her out. I think of her as a British, female Ocean, except where Ocean’s defining feature is seriousness, Ware’s is playfulness.
And since we’re talking playfulness, I might as well get to the real reason I wrote this post: Anna Wise. Of all the voices in contemporary music, hers is the one I find the most addictive:
I first heard Wise featured in a CunningLynguist song:
But it’s really in the duo Sonnymoon that she really shines. Sonnymoon is really just two kids with a computer and that voice, two kids who clearly spent too much time as children listening to their parents’, or perhaps their grandparents’ record collections. Their music is infused with 60s soul, 70s funk, jazz (they’re named after a Sonny Rollins Tune), and an extraterrestrial silliness that is hard to place in the world of contemporary music. It’s just odd enough that I’ve had trouble getting my friends into it. It’s either your groove or it isn’t, I suppose, but with that voice, it’s definitely mine:
Like I said, extraterrestrial silliness.
In addition to making wonderful little music, Sonnymoon also makes wonderful videos (“>here’s their latest) with what must be a fairly small budget (look at the viewer numbers on those videos!). This one, in particular, I come back to when I just need a smile:
“Any night, you should have someone to hold, tell you that you did OK, when your mind’s against you.” Truer words were never sung.
OK, I’ve gone from alt-country to whatever Chet Faker is to dance and electronica to pop to hip hop to Sonnymoon weirdness. I’m exhausted. I hope you find something you enjoy. Feel free to let me know about the voices or music that is perfectly in tune with you.