Power pop, power chords, powerhouse vocals, “The Power Of Love” — music has myriad ways to flip the switch. Here are five artists who are honing and, in some cases, redefining what the idea of power in pop music means.
1. EX HEX
There are some days when only the power of classic rock can save you—thanks to its big chords, hip-shaking beats, and long-hair-don’t-care swagger. The Washington, D.C. trio Ex Hex—made up of Betsy Harris, Mary Timony, and Laura Wright—gets this. Their debut Rips (Merge), out next week, takes rock and roll’s biggest ideas and compresses them into shiny pop gems, dismissing the wanky tendencies of certain rock-radio staples while audibly delighting in those tropes that put the pedal to the metal—juicy solos, sticky hooks, oh-oh-oh backing vocals.
Timony is an indie lifer; before she formed Ex Hex, she was in the supergroup Wild Flag. That quartet also counted among its members Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss from the Pacfiic Northwest guitar-guitar-drums trio Sleater-Kinney, whose assaultive take on postpunk showed one way that riot grrrls could mature into womanhood. In October, Sub Pop will commemorate the band’s legacy with Start Together, a seven-LP box set containing remastered versions of the S-K catalog and a 44-page book of photography. The Woods, Sleater-Kinney’s final album, was a thrilling closing statement, Corin Tucker’s yelp leading the way as Weiss and Brownstein jammed their way toward rock and roll salvation.
3. CHARLI XCX
A couple of years ago, this British singer-songwriter released “Stay Away,” a stunning rebuke to a former lover who picked at romantic wounds for just a few minutes too many. The laurels handed out to that track—and others, like the sequin-spangled “Nuclear Seasons”—were only the prelude to Charli XCX acting as pop’s secret weapon in plain sight; she co-wrote and sang backing vocals on Icona Pop’s giddy “I Love It” and provided the best part of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy.” She’s now making her own name on the radio with “Boom Clap,” a rosier cousin of “Stay Away” that has a fist-pumping chorus, and her second album Sucker (Big Beat/Atlantic) is due out in December. For now she’s on the road, and her live show is unmissable; when touring in 2012, she busted out a gorgeous cover of Echo & The Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon” in addition to her powerhouse take on her own material.
4. TKAY MAIDZA
Brimming with confidence and armed with killer, synth-overload backing tracks, this 18-year-old Australian MC is turning heads on both sides of the Equator. Her biting raps betray a sophistication that’s rare in artists of any age, particularly on her track “U-Huh,” which can start thrashy dance parties whever it’s played. “I just want to do music forever and ever & ever,” she recently tweeted, and the feeling is mutual; watching her grow from the far-ahead place she is now is an exciting prospect.
5. MARTHA WASH
Martha Wash’s voice has been a staple of dance music for decades now; she was one of The Weather Girls, thanking God for the climate patterns that resulted in “It’s Raining Men.” But you might not know that her powerhouse voice was on a lot of other dance tracks as well; a Rolling Stone profile detailed various producers’ depressing efforts to shove her into the shadows while using models to “visualize” their songs, most notoriously on the ubiquitous ’90s dance hits “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” and “Everybody Everybody.” Wash, however, is still making music, and her rich, lusty voice remains in tip-top shape.