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White Hinterland: Five Essential Albums

by Kara Manning
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White Hinterland's Casey Dienel (photo: Derrick Belcham)

Classically-trained Casey Dienel, who records as White Hinterland, breaks down genre barriers on her most recent album Baby, slipping between voluptuous pop, undulating R&B, bluesy laments and the rigor of experimental rock 'n' roll. Her ability to find a juncture between these multiple musical personalities is electrifying, especially in live performance. Curious? You're in luck. White Hinterland will be in New York this Friday, June 27, to play Rough Trade. Since White Hinterland's Casey Dienel has such a bold, catholic taste in music, we asked if she'd pull together a list of her Five Essential Albums:

Nina Simone, Black Gold
“You use up everything you got trying to give everybody what they want.” One thing you should know is that I hate lists. I know an hour after I am done making this I will be kicking myself for forgetting someone very important. But Nina Simone’s work has been my teacher and companion for a long time. Her singing on this record, her banter, the relationship with her band—it’s all display here. It has everything, even a Sandy Denny cover. It’s not easy to make live records that sound this good and unfold this splendidly. She poses big questions. She doesn’t make apologies. She’s incredibly generous to her audience. I could go on at length about her singing, but I also find her piano work very sensitive and inspired. Her version of “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life” is a big gut punch. I love the idea of her hanging out with Miriam Makeba, teaching each other songs like “Westwind.”

Outkast, Aquemini
A perfect album. So much freaking talent everywhere you look, like Erykah Badu’s turn on “Liberation,” those wild Mr. DJ beats, Tomi Martin’s squiggly guitar lines on “Chonky Fire.” Organized Noize have had their hands in all my favorite s**t: En Vogue, Goodie Mob, TLC. “Skew It On The Bar-B”’s beat is perfection.

Duke Ellington, Money Jungle
One of my favorite jazz albums, if a rather tense one. Jazz has always played a big role in my listening life. Duke Ellington had a really big influence on my harmonic development. I find his progressions have an innate elegance to them. Always interesting chords without seeming too “chord-y,” for lack of a better word. But this is one of his more dissonant records, a kind of break from character in his style. I love that about it. Charles Mingus (another inspiration of mine) is pitted against Max Roach. Their interaction feels combative, and even the reedy textures of “Fleurette Africaine” are laced with a brilliant tension. “Solitude” is one my favorite pieces Ellington ever wrote.

Kate Bush,The Dreaming
It pains me to choose just one of her records. I came tragically late to her music; I was about 23 before I really gave any of her records a good listen, but when I finally did, it was like finding a world I visited in a past life. Astonishing yet familiar, kindred while also remaining quite alien. I love the attention to detail, the intricacy of the arrangements and production. This is the record I pull out to explain how production is a compositional tool. I love the abundance of ideas here. There’s so much flying at you all at once and usually that is code for “challenging,” but in Kate Bush's world that's half the fun of it. And she always sounds like she is have the most fun of anyone around. It doesn't sound like she's "working" the music, but that she is toying with all of us listening to it. Holding you right the palm of her hand the entire duration. Very cat-and-mouse. As a pretty neurotic person a lot of this anxiety-driven music has a rather calming effect on my psyche. It relaxes me hearing other people think about all these things too ("Sat In Your Lap" or "Suspended In Gaffa").

Stevie Wonder, Fulfillingness’ First Finale
In terms of how I prefer to approach/attack the piano, there is no bigger hero for me than Stevie. His music is a little like Aretha Franklin’s in that it’s so ubiquitous, so embedded in pop consciousness that sometimes it can be taken for granted how much genius there is in the work. I can’t listen to “They Won’t Go When I Go” without choking up. There are so many moments of beauty that it’s almost overwhelming, like the sparkly synths cascading down from the intro to “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” or the cuíca line on “Bird of Beauty” that reminds me of Head Hunters-era Herbie Hancock. Another favorite moment is Minnie Riperton’s sly background vocals on “Creepin.” The best song for me on this whole record is “Too Shy To Say.” That song could have gone off in so many directions, but the woozy stuff Sneaky Pete added on pedal steel is the perfect icing on the cake.

White Hinterland's album Baby is out now via Dead Oceans. Watch her video for "Ring The Bell" below. You can read more Five Essential Albums picks here.

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