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Women experimentalists take a playful approach


Karen Haglof, Tobiano
  • Karen Haglof, Tobiano

Avant-garde works often can be spoiled by a sense of serious self-importance, but four women known as eclectic composers show whimsy in their newest albums. Karen Haglof, former guitarist with no-wave Band of Susans, has returned to music following a career as an oncologist. Her third solo album Tobiano (True Morgan) continues the equestrian theme of recent releases, but claims new boundaries in experimentation, even as it offers upbeat melodic rockers like “Tobiano Twirl.” Holly Herndon, an electronic musician known for austere vocal modifications, went to Berlin to record a vocal ensemble for her new album PROTO (4AD). In 13 tracks, more than a dozen voices ponder the fate of humans, with “Extreme Love” a real standout.

Welsh rocker Cate Le Bon is known for her lyrical obscurity and adventurous arrangement, but in Reward (Mexican Summer), she seems to be on a special mission to speak plainly and passionately — despite her ascetic solo retreat in England’s Lake District. The result will never be mistaken for a pop album in the traditional sense, but tracks like “Daylight Matters” represent a Le Bon just about anyone can understand. Finally, improvisational prodigy Sarah Davachi has been insanely prolific in the past two years, trying a variety of instruments and pairing with Ariel Kalma. Yet her return to piano in Pale Bloom (Boomkat) is her simplest and most graceful, melding vocals and keyboard in a warm and wonderful record.

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