Best Singer-Songwriter


Critics' Picks

On last year's Disturbing the Air (Drag City), Azita Youssefi completed her transformation from top-shelf noise rocker to poetic singer-songwriter—though she continues to insist that the songs she cowrote with her cacophonous mid-90s band the Scissor Girls are catchy too. What's undeniably different is the craftsmanship: she's focusing on the songs themselves, having abandoned her penchant for bizarre costumes and her eccentric and aggressive stage presence. By and large she limits herself to voice and piano, attempting to strip away any sort of signifiers additional instruments might provide. Her dense lyrics, delivered in her distinctively reedy voice, untangle themselves only with sustained attention, and she riddles her melodies with unexpected shapes and digressions. With every repetition of a verse she teases out fresh variations and finds new intricacies in the chord progression, so that it feels like the tunes are through-composed. As she navigates the songs' startling key and tempo changes, she sometimes makes sudden leaps into her upper register that can be pleasantly jarring—it's as if she's grabbing you by the throat, and that's precisely the point.