BEST OF 2015: Our Favorite Frontwomen

Courtney Barnett from Melbourne, Australia, performs during the NPR Music SXSW Showcase at Stubb's in Austin on Wednesday, March 18, 2015. Lukas Keapproth/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Lukas Keapproth/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

2015 was a great year for women in music. Specifically, for women who front a band as both a singer and guitarist. While we’ve reached a point where it’s not totally necessary to point and shout every time we find an amazing band  led by a female musician (it’s becoming one of the best trends in music); it feels pretty good to remind everyone how much girls rocked this year. So, here’s a list of the best frontwomen who released albums in 2015, ranked alphabetically.

Alicia Bognanno (of Bully)

Feels Like (June 23, 205)

Bully released their debut album this summer, the tough-but-tender Feels Like. The Nashville band is led by vocalist/guitarist Alicia Bognanno, who previously studied audio engineering at Steve Albini’s studio. She’s just as great when it comes to recording her own music – Feels Like was recorded live in a few takes, and her brutal, raw vocals are the highlight of the record.

Courtney Barnett

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (March 20, 2015)

Courtney Barnett seemed to come out of nowhere with her song “Avant Gardener,” and then suddenly be everywhere. Though she comes across as a bit soft-spoken, she screamed and shredded through her Terminal 5 show this summer (while still mixing up the set with her quieter, more introspective songs like “Depreston“). The concert opened with Speedy Ortiz and Torres, two other groups on this list, making it one of the best lineups for women guitarists I’ve seen.

Ellen Kempner (aka Palehound)

Dry Food (August 14, 2015)

Ellen Kempner is a vocalist/guitarist (although she played everything but the drums on her debut album Dry Food) who performs under the moniker Palehound. As a songwriter, she’s nailed a self-aware approach that’s heavy on imagery. For an example of her guitar skills, check out “Molly,” a song where she layers playful, melodic parts with harsh interjections of distortion and makes them fit together naturally.

Frances Quinlan (of Hop Along)

Painted Shut (May 4, 2015)

Frances Quinlan of Hop Along has a voice that’s as tortured as it is mesmerizing, whether she’s singing about waiting on the table of an ex’s new girlfriend or her guilt from her inaction in a crucial moment. Reading about the stories that inspires her songs give them even more meaning and depth, though nothing expresses it more than her voice.

Katie Monks (of Dilly Dally)

Sore (October 9, 2015)

You could say that Katie Monks is Dilly Dally‘s vocalist, although her voice is more likely to be coming out in a scream or rasp. Her longtime friend Liz Ball shares guitar duties in the Toronto band, who released their debut album Sore in October. Check out “The Touch” to see just how far she’ll go to nail the right emotion for a song:

Mackenzie Scott (aka Torres)

Sprinter (May 5, 2015)

Mackenzie Scott sings and plays guitar under the alias Torres. Her Spring release, Sprinter, was impressive not just because of her voice, but her ability as a songwriter to channel and transcend emotions like quiet rage in a few minutes of sound. For proof, watch “Sprinter” below or one of the best songs on the album, “Strange Hellos.”

Marissa Paternoster (of Screaming Females)

Rose Mountain (February 24, 2015)

Yeah, we know: Players gonna play, but the Screaming Females weren’t fucking around when they covered Taylor Swift for the A.V. Club; they won the site’s award for best cover song this year with their version of “Shake It Off.” Unlike the original, there was no prancing around or mugging for the camera. Marissa Paternoster was all business with her deep voice and replaced the spoken-word bridge with a badass guitar solo that was way, way too short.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zm1-bVYio1k

Sadie Dupuis (of Speedy Ortiz)

Foil Deer (April 21, 2015)

On Foil Deer, Sadie Dupuis showed off her bravado and quick wit with lyrics like “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss.” Live, she ups the definition of boss to pulling off jagged, unexpected guitar lines in some of the best outfits (and coolest socks) you’ve ever seen. And, her band has been using their success for good, by going on a tour to support the Girls Rock Camp Foundation, and creating a hotline for concert-goers to report unsafe or discriminatory behavior.

Sleater-Kinney

No Cities To Love (January 20, 2015)

Sleater-Kinney is finally back, and as an added bonus, contains two frontwomen in one band. Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker do equal singing and guitar playing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6thsrNE7p4

Veronica Torres (of Pill)

Pill EP (March 17, 2015)

I saw Pill open for Parquet Courts last week, and they made quite an impression. Their sound is dry and sparse, with saxophone and guitar adding an occasional cool breeze. When Veronica Torres started their set by shouting “Por mi, por mi casa, y lo que quiero saber” over and over, the entire venue became silent.

Victoria Ruiz (of Downtown Boys)

Full Communism (May 4, 2015)

The Providence-based Downtown Boys are led by a pretty fierce lady, Victoria Ruiz. Their name is inspired by Springsteen lyrics, and on Full Communism they cover “Dancing In The Dark,” but that isn’t to keep things light: When she sings the line about starting a fire with a spark, their delivery sounds just as political and urgent as the rest of their work.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T23wfhddpYY