What you’re imagining, that’s what the band sounds like. I used to refer to this subgenre as dark cabaret pop, but with the percussion that Murderous Chanteuse brought to the Café Nine stage, the style needs a name more like… chanteusecore.
Murderous Chanteuse is songwriter Jennifer Hill’s current project, the one that’s more her music and her style than her previous, well-received works as Jennifer Hill & Co. I was reading up on her and in the Southington Observer found her talking about past and new projects in a way that knocked me back for a second.
The old indie sound [was] more about appealing to Connecticut audiences, which preferred that approach to music, and getting booked for gigs, said Jennifer.
“This (new material) has more of the influences I’ve always loved,” said Jennifer. “Before I was writing stuff I didn’t want to write.”
This sent me running to Bandcamp to listen to Jennifer Hill & Co. (remember, I moved to Connecticut from the other end of the country in August, so I’m always catching up on the backstory). It’s good regional indie rock, easily deserving the best indie, best songwriter, best etc. nominations the band received: pure lovely vocals, Americana tinge to the rock, complex lyrics, driven by piano instead of guitar (unusual here, the acoustic guitar industry appears to be vibrant on the shoreline). Sounds like Connecticut.
And she didn’t want to write it like that.
Like a lot of indie music fans, I’ve burrowed right into the idea that it’s major labels, and only major labels, that constrain the artist’s creativity. Majors are reading the marketing data, majors think of fans as cattle, majors don’t care what the artist’s vision is, majors believe leather pants are the answer before they hear what the question is.
But Jennifer Hill was with a small indie label, and what was constraining her was the nature of the regional market. This was my wake-up call to make a bigger effort to explore diverse sounds, since I do actually like pop in many varieties, including the chanteusecore that Murderous Chanteuse serves up.
While my preference is for originals, Murderous Chanteuse’s cover of the Cranberries’ “Pretty” is an apt starting point for understanding what Murderous Chanteuse is about. We all know the original: ethereal vocals, dreamy indie-rock sound, straddling the line of admiration and menace. In Jennifer Hill’s hands, it’s darker and more determined: you’re so pretty the way you are, and anyone who says otherwise, we’re stapling his entrails to the wall, gluing on lots of shiny beads, and calling it conceptual art.
There’s a meme-level tweet going around, asking why, with all the shit women put up with, we don’t go on homicidal sprees and burn it all down. Murderous Chanteuse’s music gets at that: there’s a lot of anger (the set opened with a song about getting revenge on an abuser) and also a lot of effort to drag positivity out of frustration and troubling experiences. The perpetual double-bind for women in 2019 — there is so damn much cause for rage, but getting ahead means smiling and making nice, and in any case, who wants to be perpetually hurt and angry? we deserve better than that! — is central to this music.
There’s blood on the keyboard.
(actually said midway through, actual blood, but the metaphor works too)
Hill’s point of view includes her own experience as a domestic abuse survivor (she talks about it here), as well as with PTSD from earlier traumas, so what she’s sharing on stage is heady, honest, and intimate. Hill is heavily involved in advocacy for abuse survivors.
The one time I got my camera pointed straight, without someone else’s bass player in my way, was a song where she said afterward that she had cotton mouth, so instead let’s just go play on Murderous Chanteuse’s Reverbnation page. What you’ll hear here has a more electro-pop production than the live show (you know the drill, live shows tend to run more organic). It’s immensely fun and honestly, we need clubs where women wear black-light-reactive outfits and dance to this and wave glow sticks like swords.
But wait… you also need to hear “Women Unite,” written as a women’s empowerment anthem and done in Americana style.
There were two subsequent acts on the bill for that night (both consisting of musicians whose superfans all seemed to also be musicians — if you needed a bass player, you should have been there), but I was in a mood and hadn’t paid for enough parking hours at the State Fair lot (corner of State and Fair Streets, haha, confused the out-of-towners), so I figured hey, lots of music fans skip the openers, I’m going to be the person who sees only the opener. It happens.
More Murderous Chanteuse