Voices from the world

We were sitting at Delhi’s perfect little French restaurant called Le Bistro du Parc and contemplating whether to order the Steak Tartare in a city that is otherwise in a strictly stringy buffalo territory (we did order it and it was great; and it was not buffalo, by the way!) when I thought I heard Bon Iver on the speakers. You know Bon Iver, the band name that is actually the alter ego of the indie singer songwriter Justin Vernon, who made waves a few years ago with his first full-length album For Emma, Forever Ago, an album of songs that he wrote when he chose to confine himself in a snowbound wooden cabin somewhere in Wisconsin. That album was a deeply emotional breakup album and it received both huge critical acclaim as well as popularity, paving the way for Vernon to get a Grammy for Best New Artist a few years ago.
Olsen has an enchanting voice and the amazing ability to make songs about heartbreak upbeat (GETTY IMAGES)

Olsen has an enchanting voice and the amazing ability to make songs about heartbreak upbeat (GETTY IMAGES)

Anyway, the tune that was coming out of the speakers had vocals that sounded like Bon Iver but the music wasn’t marked with his usual minimalist brand, so I asked the Canadian guy who manages the restaurant who it was and he said it was indeed Bon Iver, but a remixed version of his song, Skinny Love (do check it out, remixed or in the original, if you haven’t). We got talking about the singer’s versatile side projects with bands such as Volcano Choir, GAYNGS and Megafaun, but most of all about his incredible vocals – a near-falsetto that seems to come from deep within his body. That’s when he suggested I check out Vancouver Sleep Clinic.

I did with much difficulty, I should add. After scouring the Internet via SoundCloud, I got a couple of singles by these guys (this guy, actually, because Vancouver Sleep Clinic is the bedroom project of singer-songwriter Tim Bettinson). And, lest you get it wrong, it has nothing to do with Vancouver or Canada. Vancouver Sleep Clinic is a Brisbane-based Australian band. Bettinson has a very agreeable falsetto but is markedly more upbeat than Bon Iver. I got three singles – Vapour, Collapse and a cover of Drake’s (the rapper) Hold On We’re Going Home. All three worked instantly for me, especially Collapse, which I recommend you listen to even if it is a YouTube version without real video. Vancouver Sleep Clinic is a band I’m going to follow and look out for a full-length album from them whenever that happens.

That Aussie band with a Canadian-sounding name was a discovery in a restaurant aided by a helpful manager. The other new music that has been glued to my ears of late is something I discovered on one of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts. I hadn’t heard of Angel Olsen till I discovered her singing on one episode of those. Just she and her plugged-in electric guitar. Olsen has an enchanting voice. And the amazing ability to make songs about heartbreak upbeat. After the Tiny Desk Concert, I heard her second album that was released recently, Burn Your Fire For No Witness, and discovered that she is not just a girl with a guitar. On the album, she plays with a drummer and a bass player and her songs are emotional, dealing with loss and solitude but sonically they cover a range – from intense indie to grungy pop.

Vancouver Sleep Clinic is the bedroom project of singersongwriter Tim Bettinson

Vancouver Sleep Clinic is the bedroom project of singersongwriter Tim Bettinson

The best part of Olsen, a native Missourian, who’s sung with alt-country singer-songwriter Bonnie Prince Billy, is her ghostly, enchanting vocals and poetic lyrics that can remind you of Leonard Cohen. On her new album, listen to the song, White Fire, and it can seem like you’re listening to Cohen’s early works. Yet, that’s not all that she is about. On other tracks, notably on the album’s first, Unf***theworld, she demonstrates a singular style, a controlled haunting intensity that makes you sit up and take notice. But if you want an easier entry into her music, try Forgiven/Forgotten or Hi-Five, both tracks are on the new album. I predict you’ll get hooked. Angel Olsen. Remember the name. And seek out her music. You won’t regret it.

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