In the past few years, fuzz guitars have come conspicuously back to the forefront, and they're being played by some female-led outfits that sound like they came straight out of the mid-'90s, when Juliana Hatfield, Liz Phair and Courtney Love were queens of the Sam Goody racks. Mixing jangly and distorted guitars, snarky, intelligent lyrics, and screaming banshee or choir-angel vocals together, these brash, loud female-fronted acts are making music that could fit right in with the classic grunge and DIY groups from that era while still sounding fresh and modern. Here are the fifteen best female-fronted fuzz-guitar bands:
15. Traveling Out of Bloomington, Indiana, singer and guitarist Ginger Alford (also of Good Time) leads the band with her sometimes double tracked, sweet, yearning vocals singing mature lyrics questioning what is next in life. With Alan Crenshaw on bass and backup vocals and Jake Alexander on drums, the band turns out some well-crafted lo-fi pop punk tunes.
14. Cold Beat Hannah Lew from Grasswidow leads this Bay Area band with her dreamy but sassy voice. Jangly guitars and reverb gives this project a very surf rock feel, and the subject matter is serious: Lew's father passed away in 2009, and these songs reflect the sadness and frustration of death. This is not a sad sounding album by any means, though, and her ethereal voice gives gravity to the otherwise slightly abstract music played.
13. Beaches This Melbourne quintet, which formed in 2007, creates music drenched in fuzz and often swirling into mostly instrumental psych rock. The band's lush, barely decipherable vocals add another layer to the dense musical atmosphere, making these ladies a top runner in the Australia psych scene.
12. White Lung This power punk band out of Vancouver is raw and loud. The group's lead singer, Mish Way, is met with comparisons to Courtney Love due to Way's brash and confident vocals and stage presence. The band's lyrics deal with real life scenarios ranging from sleeping with someone you don't even like to drug use to the serial killer who dumped Craigslist prostitutes all over Long Island beaches.
11. Potty Mouth This all female band out of Northampton, Massachusetts is getting a ton of buzz right now, and for good reason; they are a really solid band. With a name taken from Bratmobile's 1993 album, these gals show that they know their musical history, and singer Abby Weems's lower, flat delivery gives the music a killer punch while fuzzy surf guitar swirls around the lyrics.
10. Pins Pins is an all female band from Manchester that is part of the C86 revival. C86 was originally the cassette compilation New Music Express put out in 1986 that had a specific sound that strayed from the dance pop hits of the time; it has since become shorthand for a certain brand of British indie pop. The Pins' sound is bass drum heavy and moves firmly through sludge and mire, with the occasional shimmer of the high hat balancing the sound out, while the vocals drone carefully, reminiscent of the Jesus and Mary Chain.
9. Waxahatchee The dichotomy of Katie Crutchfield's sweet, sometimes double tracked vocals with ultra-fuzzy guitars is a wonderful mix that really lets both music and vocals shine on their own, and her lyrics resonate with feelings of want and yet apathy.
8. Joanna Gruesome Lo-fi garage noise pop at its finest, this Cardiff band is getting a lot of praise for its ability to mix imagery of pentagrams and death with the catchiest of pop hooks. The twin guitar assault of Owen and George Gruesome (yes, they all changed their last names in unity) bring major scuzzy fuzz and reverb as singer Joanna Gruesome screams one minute then sweetly coos the next.
7. You Me and Us This Palm Springs, California trio has a great sundrenched pop sound that fits with its environment and leans heavily on the vocal and guitar talents of Carlee Hendrix. It's another example of angelic, accessible vocals meshing with fuzz guitar well.
6. Dum Dum Girls Dee Dee Penny put out a few small releases that garnered Sub Pop Records attention in 2009. Her sound has evolved from catchy indie pop to music that is more atmospheric, but her well-tuned pop sensibilities are still there. Listening to her brings to mind immediately Julee Cruise's soothing work on the Twin Peaks soundtrack.
5. Cults Formed in 2010 by two NYU students, Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin make the kind of interesting pleasing pop heard previously by bands like Luscious Jackson and Juliana Hatfield. Follin's voice is so sugary sweet; she hits Mariah Carey-high notes effortlessly and without near as much bravado.
4. Wild Flag It's a no brainer to nail that sweet mid-'90s sound when you have Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney and Mary Timony of Helium in the band. Add in Rebecca Cole of the Minders and Janet Weiss, who drummed for both Sleater-Kinney and Quasi, and you have yourself a supergroup. Tinges of surf guitar accent the tribal drumming, and Brownstein's vocals keep you captivated with her animated melodies. They have so many evident influences going on, new wave punk, '60s surf, B-52's quirkiness, all of which combine to sound completely modern.
3. Haybaby Brooklyn indie pop rockers that add an extra sludge element, giving off grunge vibes that feel organic and not caricatured. Guitarist Leslie Hong and drummer Zach Ellis trade vocals, as Sam Yield's bass stays consistently bouncy on the low end, perfectly executing a quirky slacker sound that brings a lot of comparisons to the Pixies.
2. Speedy Ortiz Speedy Ortiz released "Major Arcana" this past summer to critical appraisal. Vocalist Sadie Dupuis brings a lot of comparisons to Liz Phair with her dry, narrative singing style, and the added bombastic loudness of the band behind her works well, timing quick moments of silence around her lyrics. Like Potty Mouth, they hail from Northampton, Massachusetts. Is Northampton the new Chapel Hill? Seems so.
1. The Julie Ruin Queen of the Riot Grrl movement, Kathleen Hanna shows everyone how it's done in the Julie Ruin. Inspiration to thousands and thousands of women, she stepped back for a moment after being diagnosed with Lyme's disease, and now her new band's music is invigorated and full of spirit. You can hear Hanna's sneer with every word, confident and taunting the listener to let loose. There is actually a new Riot Grrl movement going on right now as young girls turn to tumblr to talk feminism and show off new Riot Grrl tattoos. Kathleen Hanna, thank you for being an amazing role model.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.