It’s like affirmative action for female vocalists. Each Christmas since graduating from college, I have put together a carefully curated album of songs by women for women called Femme Bonds. In the giving spirit, I have decided for the first time in seven years to share this year’s list publicly.
1. Born to Die – Lana Del Rey
2. Girl on Fire – Alicia Keys w/Nicki Minaj
3. Walk on By – Noosa
4. Candles – Daughter
5. Vampire Smile – Kyla La Grange
6. Monday Morning – Melanie Fiona
7. King and Lionheart – Of Monsters and Men
8. Tides – The xx
9. Miriam – Norah Jones
10. You Can Go Your Own Way – Lissie
11. Stay – Rihanna w/Mikky Eko
12. Love You Better – Kyla La Grange
13. Radio – Lana Del Rey
14. Medicine – Daughter
15. Angels – The xx
16. Not Even the King – Alicia Keys
17. Half of Me – Rihanna
Femme Bonds originally started as a reaction to the male-driven coffee house music that characterized my college years: Jason Mraz, John Mayer, and even The Generals, our all-boy a capella choir who could make whole halls of freshman girls sweat through their sports bras and Soffes. While this music had once abated the stress of schoolwork and courtship, it eventually became too mellow. Melancholy had set in; I was at a soul-sucking job selling advertisements and still mourning the loss of friends graduated and gone.
“It’s just so quiet in here,” I would whimper to my new husband, my voice bouncing off the bare walls of our home together. It was empty without Caroline’s prayers, Jacki’s cackle, and the click of Meghan’s Diet Pepsi can.
Music filled the space when friends could not. Lyrics gave me new narratives to try on. Rhythm gave structure to my movement when the choices of adulthood seemed endless. And sharing it made me feel known. “What’s your favorite song on the album?” I beg my girlfriends to tell me each year so I can trace the outlines of their lives and know something more of the people they are becoming apart from me.
While the first Femme Bonds had a nasally Vanessa Carlton demanding, “Who’s to say we’re not good enough?”, this year’s album is decidedly more haunting or “sultry” as one friend put it. On the track Girl on Fire, Alicia Keys gets fierce with the lyrics, “Looks like a girl, but she’s a flame.” Music is like Scripture to me in this way: it names where I’ve been, where I’m at, and where I’m longing to be. (I can still remember the first time I heard Pearl Jam’s Better Man in high school and thought I was the girl that “dreams in red.”) I’ve titled this year’s compilation ”The Itch” — a telling summation of a year spent feeling restless and on the brink of being unleashed.
I don’t mean for the album to be reversely sexist in its insistence on female vocalists. (And for the record, there was a 5-year companion volume called Homage to Hommes). Rather, Femme Bonds serves as a reminder that there’s something about the narrative power of voices that sound like mine, of songs that come in at my pitch, of a community of friends that witness to a God who although born a boy has all the gusto of a girl on fire.