In this article, I’m going to break recommend you 23 of the best alternative bands with female singers. Some of these bands may be ones you’re familiar with, while others are hopefully a little less known but definitely worthy of a mention.
The Magnificent Seven
Here are a seven bands, in no particular order, that I really enjoy and think are worth spotlighting.
Dead Can Dance is one of my top alternative bands with a female singer, though their genre is very far reaching, incorporating elements of dark wave, ethereal wave, world music, experimental, post punk, and neo-classical.
The band hails from Australia, and singer/musician Lisa Gerrard has a captivating, powerful voice that molds itself from experimental wailings to operatic style singing. Though Brendan Perry does most of the main vocals, Gerrard is essential to the atmosphere of their music.
Their first eponymous album came out in 1984, and they are still active, having released their latest in 2018, Dionysus, and have performed live in 2021. Their catalogue is seriously some of the very best music ever, in my opinion, and all deserves a listen.
One key song is 1994’s “Mesmerism”, with a very experimental sound featuring hard drums, a melodic orchestral refrain, and the alternatively wailing, then moody vocals of Gerrard. Another which features Gerrard prominently is 2012’s “Kiko”, a powerful, regal sounding tune with middle eastern influences.
Siouxsie and the Banshees are considered a classic staple of goth music, due to the moody, post punk sounds and Siouxsie’s matching voice. Having grown out of the late 70s punk scene, they came into their own throughout the 80s and 90s.
One favorite of mine is “Cities in Dust” from 1986, a goth rock dance classic with sprinkles of dreamy instrumentation. From the same album, Tinderbox, came “This Unrest”, a darkly atmosphered song with hints of their punk roots. Another stand out is “Little Sister” from 1991, a very melancholy and atmospheric lament.
Similar to the above two bands, Cocteau Twins are considered very important in the goth and post punk music scene, pioneering dream pop and ethereal wave in the 80s and 90s. The Scottish band features the other worldly, often unintelligible vocals and nonsense lyrics of Elizabeth Fraser, something which is done intentionally to focus solely on the sounds of the words and the musical atmosphere.
In the beginning the band had a harder, more minimal sound, but evolved into an ethereal wonderland. One favorite is “Alice” from 1996, an eerie masterpiece. Another from 1996 is “Serpentskirt”, a flowing song that reminds me of being underwater.
Irish band The Cranberries, with the distinct lilting, “yodelling”, and accented vocals of Dolores O’Riordan are key figures in alternative rock. The group released their first album in 1993, Everyone Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, and were active until 2019, dissolving after the tragic death of O’Riordan.
Off their debut album, “I Still Do”, conveys desperation and melancholy with dreamy beauty.
Another great is 1996’s “Joe”, a more flowingly melodic ballad, dripping with nostalgia. The group’s final album, In the End, was released in 2019 using demos O’Riordan had recorded for the planned album. Sadly she passed away in 2018 by accidental drowning before she saw its completion.
The Corrs, a band consisting of four Irish siblings, blends pop, rock, and traditional Irish music, and features the vocals of sister Andrea Corr. Their first album came out in 1995, Forgiven, Not Forgotten, and continue to be active to this day.
One favorite of mine is the title song from their debut album, which features a harmonized chorus and traditional Irish fiddling among a backdrop of 90s pop rock beats. Another great song is 2000’s “Give Me a Reason”, featuring a full on Irish solo mid way through, and catchy, contemporary melody.
Also hailing from Ireland is band Clannad, a group of siblings who grew up speaking Irish Gaelic, which is where acclaimed New Age singer Enya got her start. However, the singer here is Maire Brennan, who has been with the band their whole career, from their strictly Irish folk days in the 70s to the present.
The band evolved through the 80s and 90s especially to form a captivating sound with aspects of Celtic folk, new age,and rock, and often featuring Irish Gaelic lyrics (clannad.ie).
Maire’s unmistakably ethereal and poignantly emotive vocals make this band all the more special, as can be seen in songs like 1985’s ethereal Celtic rock duet with Bono, “In a Lifetime”. Another great song by the band is 1993’s “Na Laethe Bhi”, the epitome of ethereal, otherworldly atmosphere.
Garbage wouldn’t be Garbage without their front woman, Scottish singer Shirley Manson. To be honest, I’m really only a fan of their first two albums, 1995’s Garbage and 1998’s Version 2.0. After that, their material loses uniqueness to me, and starts to all sound like the same generic alt rock mess.
But their first two albums are good enough to me to want to include them here. Though a departure from most of their material, one of my favorite songs off their first album is the gloomy “Milk”, a darkly dreamy love lament.
Also from the first album is the “My Lover’s Box”, a signature mix of alt rock and Manson’s vocals with her distinctive, slight moan. The stand out from Version 2.0 is “You Look So Fine”, a melancholic love song.
Black Alternative Singers
It’s important to recognize black female alternative singers as well, and to do so, I’d like to start off with the band X-Ray Spex.
Firstly, I really want to recognize English punk band X-Ray Spex and their iconic singer Poly Styrene, stage moniker of Marianne Joan Elliott-Said.
Styrene may not be everyone’s musical taste, with her punk yell-singing, but she is undeniably culturally significant for her societal awareness in the late 70s, the lyrics that reflect that, and the fact she was a mixed race woman involved in the alternative scene of her time and speaking out.
Iconic songs off the original 1978 album are “Identity” and “Germfree Adolescents”, social commentaries on the fake trappings of day to day existence. The band reformed for one more album in 1995, still centering on themes of societal injustice, and still featuring a backing saxophone, although Styrene’s vocals a bit more melodic. One stand out is “Cigarettes”, talking about the corruption in the tobacco industry.
The Style Council was active in the 80s and blended r&b, soul, jazz, new wave, and pop. Dee C. Lee, wife of fellow member Paul Weller lent something special to the sound of the band, usually as backing vocals, and at times in the lead.
Her soprano voice fit in well with the eclectic blend of styles. In 1987’s “Angel”, Lee and Weller both sing lead, alternatively, and harmonize in this alt-pop/alt-soul classic. Lee also can be heard as soulful co-lead and harmony in songs like 1985’s “The Lodgers”.
The Internet blends jazz, hip hop, r&b, funk, and electronic music to create their alternative sound. Lead singer Syd has a beautiful, gentle voice that adds a quietly soulful quality to their music.
The 2015 album Ego Death is their best work so far, in my opinion. The hands down best song of all their work, from this album, is their collaboration with KAYTRANADA, “Girl”. The song has an r&b beat amid reverberating sounds in the background, all why Syd’s sensual voice melds with the deeper synth sounds and dreamy electronics to create a unique love song.
Electronic and dark wave band Light Asylum comes alive in the deep, powerful, and aggressive vocals of Shannon Funchess.
The best songs to me are “Dark Allies”, “A Certain Person”, and “Pope Will Roll”, all dark dance hits, with intricate synth sounds. So far this duo’s work is all concentrated between 2011 and 2012, so here’s hoping there’s more to come!
Big Joanie is an English feminist punk trio of black women, led by vocalist Stephanie Phillips.
They have released one album so far, in 2018, called Sistahs. The stand out from this album in “Fall Asleep”, with a catchy sound, harmonies, and a decidedly synthy vibe. In 2020 they released two singles, my favorite of which is “It’s You”, a song about accountability.
The Carolina Chocolate Drops are an Americana/folk band featuring the co-leading vocals of talented songstress Rhiannon Giddens. They have released two albums, 2010’s Genuine Negro Jig and 2012’s Leaving Eden.
My favorite song, from the first album is “Hit Em Up Style,” which features some great tongue-in-cheek instruction on how to get back at a cheating man by spending all his money. This particular track is a cover of the very popular Blu Cantrell song of the same name in 2001.
In fact, for all of the originality that the Carolina Chocolate Drops have (check out the thigh-slapping “Cornbread and Butterbeans” if you don’t believe me), one of their other equally memorable songs is an excellent cover of “Why Don’t You Do Right.”
Best New Alternative Bands
For this section, I’m defining “new” as bands that have released their most prominent albums within the last 5 to 6 years.
Men I Trust
Canadian indie pop band Men I Trust complete their chill atmosphere with the dreamy, gentle vocals of Emmanuelle Proulx. The band formed in 2014 and have released four original albums, my favorite being Oncle Jazz from 2019.
The best songs from this album are “Tailwhip”, a whimsical tune, “Say Can You Hear”, a fast paced commentary on self centeredness, and “Show Me How”, a slow, melancholy tune.
Icelandic all female dark wave band Kaelan Mikla came to international attention after Robert Smith of the Cure took notice of them and fell in love with their sound. He invited the group to play at Meltdown Festival in London in 2018, and the rest is history.
Lead vocals are performed by the intriguingly elf like Lauffey Soffia, her voice sometimes moody, sometimes shrieking wildly. Since 2014 they have released 3 albums, the best being 2018’s Nott eftir Nott. The song “Nornalagid” (Witch’s Song) is beat heavy, danceable, and features eerie shrieks and call and response. “Hvernig kemst eg upp?” (How can I get up?) features a dark baseline, dark synths, and is a dark dance beauty.
Boy Harsher is a dark electronic duo featuring the deep, low and understated vocals of Jae Matthews. So far they have four albums out, following a 2014 EP, and have continued releasing singles since their 2019 album careful.
One favorite from this latest album is “Face the Fire”, a drum heavy hit. Another of my favorites is 2017’s “Motion”, a captivating wave hit with a variety of movements and instrumentation that makes for alternative greatness.
Second Still is an alternative band featuring female singer Suki Kwan. Their genre can be described as cold/dark wave and post punk, and the band hails from Los Angeles. The band has released two albums and one EP between 2017 and 2019.
Off of the 2018 EP Equals, “Altar” stands out. Similarly, off of the 2019 album Violet Phase, the song “Idyll” stands out as a classically dark post punk hit. I am definitely hoping to see a new release soon.
Tasseomancy is an experimental band from Canada, a duo of twin sisters Sari and Romy Lightman. The band has been releasing music since 2011, but the real reason I’m including them on this list is their 2016 album Do Easy. “Dead Can Dance and Neil Young” is an intriguing, perhaps folk ballad based song, but is so unique in the sisters’ rendition of the vocals, that it really can’t be considered just folk pop.
“Missoula” is the most experimental sounding off the album to me, and I love it. Also, “Emergency” is a strangely slower song, considering the title, and features odd, but beautiful touches of steel drums. I’m hoping to see new material some time, as this album really caught my attention.
Keep Shelly in Athens is a Greek band described as “chillwave”, but their sound at times encompasses some darker sounds, as well as dream/synth pop too.
They released music as far back as 2011, but their most prominent music has come out in 2017 and since then, once singer Jessica Bell took over the vocals. 2017’s “We Want More” delves into the band’s darker side, and has a sensually, rhythmic quality. 2018’s “Bendable” shows the bands lighter, intricate dream pop side.
Los Angeles post punk band Glaare has released two albums, 2017’s “To Deaf and Decay”, and 2021’s “Your Hellbound Heart”. Their sound is truly individual. With powerhouse singer Rachael Pierce at the helm, they take the foundations of old school post punk and make it their own sound.
“Surrender/Control” from 2017 starts out synthy and quietly jangly, and then explodes into an eerie and dreamy cascade featuring dark brooding guitar work. 2021’s “Young Hell” shows Pierce’s vocals off, surrounded by intricate synths and hard drums.
Female Indie Country Singers
Let’s begin this section with Alison Krauss and Union Station.
Alison Krauss and Union Station have maintained a distinctly modern take on country, and have provided the perfect backdrop for the angelic and clear voice of Krauss. In my opinion, they had their best songs between the 1997 album So Long So Wrong and the 2001 album New Favorite.
1997’s “It Doesn’t Matter” is so beautiful with its melancholic progressions. Another favorite of mine is “Crazy Faith” from 2001, which has a harmonic chorus and shows Krauss’ vocal talent particularly well.
First Aid Kit
First Aid Kit is a Swedish alt country project of sisters Klara and Johanna Soderberg. Their sound blends country, americana, and indie folk.
2014’s “My Silver Lining” features clear and beautiful violin accents and a rolling, jangy guitar backing. 2018’s “Postcard” harkens back to older, retro country soundwise.
The Highwomen is a supergroup alternative band with all female singers: Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires. The group has released one album, The Highwomen, in 2019.
My favorite from the album is “The Highwomen”, featuring English country soul singer Yola, and is a poignant circle of vignettes of different tragic, but strong women throughout history. Another favorite from the album is “Don’t Call Me”, with a distinct rockabilly sound.
While I could’ve made a much bigger list of the top alternative bands with female singers, hopefully this relatively short list of 23 will cause you to seek out some of these bands and artists!
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