by Daisy Jones
Albums are dead. Well, almost. Their life support is on the verge of being switched off. Yes, many of us still get excited about a new album being released, but that usually just means there’ll be more songs on Spotify to choose from. Whilst we’ve already mourned the loss of the vinyl and the CD that dominated the 20th century, we need to prepare to mourn the loss of their sister: the album. With this in mind, we’re going to take a look back at the most influential albums by female musicians from the beginning of the 21st century until now. It comes as no surprise that there are loads of retrospective music pieces that bring our attention to the influence of male artists—you can find most of them on NME.com. But who are the women that changed music forever? Let’s start from the top.
2000 – PJ Harvey Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea
What were you doing at the turn of the century? Braiding your hair? Watching Almost Famous? Shutting your Furby in the cupboard because it refused to stop blinking its terrifying spherical eyes? PJ Harvey was busy recording her fifth album, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, and it’s amazing: textured, tortured, and bleakly poetic. The Kills, Bat For Lashes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs… these are just a few of the bands that might not have existed without PJ Harvey, and Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea is one of many pinnacles of her career. Even Courtney Love, a woman not usually known for her complimentary nature, said: “The one rock star that makes me know I’m shit is Polly Harvey. I’m nothing next to the purity that she experiences.”
2001 – Missy Elliott MISS E… So Addictive
“But what about Destiny’s Child’s Survivor?!” I hear you cry. Nah, Missy Elliott’s third album was easily the most influential record to come out in 2001, even if that is solely based on the fifth track “Get Ur Freak On”. In this album, Missy went in several directions and changed the landscape of hip- hop forever, spawning a new generation of ‘badass’ artists such as Azealia Banks and Nicky Minaj. Missy harpooned her own sexuality and demanded respect from men, simultaneously, creating an album full of playfulness and hyper-articulation. Her advice? “Never follow. I just want people to feel what I do. I close myself off from music and videos so I can maintain some kind of originality.”
2002 – Peaches The Teaches of Peaches
Whilst electronic beats might not have been anything new by 2002 (ok, technically 2000 but it was re-released in 2002 by XL Records), this album is exceptionally memorable. Who could forget the line, “some people say that I put my self-respect hidden in my cervix” lazily rapped over the rhythm of mattress springs? The Teaches of Peaches is brilliantly crude, stylishly minimalist, and fearsomely liberated.
2003 – The Knife Deep Cuts
Despite receiving somewhat tepid reviews, The Knife’s Deep Cuts has stood the test of time and become one of the most influential albums of the decade. This album is exquisitely written, densely layered, and managed to cut way deeper than the band’s electro-pop contemporaries. Plus, the album included “Heartbeats,” the shimmering tale of a fleeting affair that could be one of the best songs of the noughties.
2004 – Courtney Love America’s Sweetheart
Courtney Love has always been vilified, and this album was no different. America’s Sweetheart received a huge slating by critics when it was released, which makes its title all the more gratifying. Slant called it “practically unlistenable,” whilst Pitchfork opted for “unpleasantly inhuman” and claimed it demonstrated a “monstrous” decline. Luckily, reviews don’t actually stop people from listening and Courtney’s messy, snarling first solo album has become hugely influential. It’s a noisy, punkish effort, and countless frontwomen have since tried to emulate her growling vocals and buzzsaw riffs.
2005 – M.I.A Arula
This the year that the British-Tamil rapper Mathangi Arulpragasam aka M.I.A released her debut album Arula, a collection of diverse, original, and beat-ridden tracks (“Bucky Done Gun” and “Galang”, to name a couple) created on a basic Roland MC-505 drum machine as a background and injected with a slew of political lyricism. In 2009, M.I.A made Time’s 100 most influential people list, with Spike Jonze writing: “There are no borders for her. She made me realize that you don’t have to be from the West to have a favorite Biggie song. We are all listening to the same music.”
2006 – Amy Winehouse Back to Black
Of course it’s impossible to discuss influential albums by female musicians in the 21st century without mentioning Amy Winehouse. Her second album Back to Black became the highest selling album of this century, and her originality, humor and vocal talent altered the course of female musicians to follow. Adele, who is influential in her own right, said that “Amy paved the way for artists like me and made people excited about British music again whilst being fearlessly hilarious and blasé about the whole thing.”
2007 – Britney Spears Black Out
There’s an old saying that goes “If Britney can make it through 2007, you can make it through this day.” And make it through 2007 Britney did (albeit a broken umbrella and a bit less hair). Whilst there were a handful of other influential Britney records, this one was made amidst a public breakdown, but was still surprisingly cohesive. The first track “Piece of Me” acted as a huge “Fuck you” to the tabloids, and in “Freakshow” she teases the paparazzi: “Wanna see crazy?!” she sings. Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield claimed that “Britney uses Auto-Tune the way Bob Dylan used his harmonica—for punctuation, for atmosphere, for an alienating weird sound effect.” Blackout is the perfect pop album which sounds like it was put into one end of a machine and came out the other.
2008 – Portishead Third
This album seemed to spring out of nowhere. After a decade of no releases, Portishead revealed their third album Third and it was truly incredible. As much as there is to miss about the 90’s, Portishead left them behind on this record, choosing not to include any “trademark sounds” from previous albums except for Beth Gibbons’ beautiful and haunting voice. By the time Third gets to the fuzzy analogue throbs of “Machine Gun,” you’ll realize that you’ll probably never hear anything like this again.
2009 – Yeah Yeah Yeahs It’s Blitz
The front cover of this album—a simple image of a woman’s hand bursting an egg—presented a powerful and brazen indication of feminine strength, as well the unexpected. It was a perfectly concise visual representation of the album, a subversive and compelling collection of songs that saw the band ditching the murky thrashing guitars in favor of vibrant synths. “Off with your head/dance ‘til your dead,” Karen O sang on the first line of the second track (“Heads Will Roll”). And we did.
2010 – Laura Marling I speak because I can
This is often regarded as Laura Marling’s best album, and Marling has been pretty influential. I speak because I can is a collection of darkly morose and sometimes morbid folk songs that taught people to believe the hype. “But I am your keeper/And I hold your face away from light/I am yours ‘till they come,” she sings in “Devil’s Spoke,” just one of many beautifully raw songs in this enchanting second album.
2011 – PJ Harvey Let England Shake
So good we named her twice. PJ Harvey’s eighth album was a hugely impressive effort and acted as a raw and affective portrait of war. The Guardian gave it 5/5 and NME gave it 10/10, saying, “Francis Ford Coppola can lay claim to the war movie. Ernest Hemingway the war novel. Polly Jean Harvey, a 41-year-old from Dorset, has claimed the war album.”
2012 – Grimes Visions
Some people say that there’s ‘no such thing as a bad year for music’, but they’re lying: 2012 was full of shit. However, amongst the shit sprung Grimes, an artist whose musical style has been described in The Guardian as such: “By sounding a little like everything you’ve ever heard, the whole sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard.” Her third release Visions was swathed in colors and textures, her voice an instrument that weaved amongst the bizarre and wonderful sounds.
2013 – Angel Haze Dirty Gold
For all its musical commerciality and glossy production, Dirty Gold is a vibrantly fierce album. Despite the fact that the artist leaked the album before its scheduled release, forcing it to come out after Christmas (who buys albums after Christmas?), Dirty Gold is jam packed with spikey prose and bouncy beats, elevating it above the others and cementing Angel Haze’s natural talent.
2014 – Warpaint Warpaint
It’s pretty hard to name an influential album that was released this year, because there’s no telling how this will alter in the future. However, we can have an educated guess. When the LA foursome’s album was released early this year, it was as devastatingly brooding as ever. “Love is to die… Love is to not die… Love is to live,” chimed singers Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman in “Love Is To Die”, a darkly sexy and off-kilter third track that was made to totally submerge yourself in, like an oil painting mixed with blood.
Title image source: rmx.com.mx