By Tim Grierson
Inspired by the hard-and-fast punk palette of the Ramones, the Donnas produce energized hard rock that's high on flirtatious moxie. Consciously recalling the spirit of '70s and '80s arena rock, this quartet enjoy playing up their precocious pin-up looks. But where the music they honor often had a sexist bent, here the ladies get the last laugh.
Essential Song: "Take It Off" (Purchase/Download)
Sharin Foo is one half of the male-female duo the Raveonettes. Hailing from Denmark, the Raveonettes have yet to rise above cult status in America, but Foo and partner-in-crime Sune Rose Wagner concoct wonderfully catchy surf-pop and garage-rock tracks. The band members share lead vocals, resulting in tunes that seem to be the perfect combination of masculine and feminine energy.
Essential Song: "Love in a Trashcan" (Purchase/Download)
Now well into her 50s, Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon is practically the godmother of the American alt-rock scene. With her ex-husband and former band member Thurston Moore, Gordon created one of the most distinctive musical catalogs of the last 30 years, and her songs have touched on everything from workplace sexism ("Swimsuit Issue"), kinky relationships ("Shoot") to Karen Carpenter ("Tunic [Song for Karen]").
Essential Song: "Swimsuit Issue" (Purchase/Download)
Lzzy Hale fronts the hard rock band Halestorm, which also includes her brother Arejay. They put out their first album, Halestorm, in 2009, and while their debut wasn't a very original work, it did suggest that Hale wanted to offer a counterbalance to the down-and-dirty sex songs of her male contemporaries. In 2012, they returned with The Strange Case of....
Essential Song: "I Get Off" (Purchase/Download)
One of the great things about a new PJ Harvey album is you never know exactly which PJ Harvey you're going to get. Will it be the lo-fi primitivism of Rid of Me? The elegant Gothic melodrama of To Bring You My Love? The stark piano balladry of White Chalk? The gorgeous love songs of Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea? Indeed, she's proven to be an adventurous chameleon and a one-of-a-kind performer who is fearless about laying herself bare in her songs.
Essential Song: "Rid of Me" (Purchase/Download)
Essential Song: "Hold On" (Purchase/Download)
More than 30 years after first arriving on the scene, the Pretenders may no longer be the commercial force they once were, but frontwoman Chrissie Hynde still possesses one of rock's most recognizable voices. Her rough, raw, sexy vocals made brass-knuckled '80s songs like "Back on the Chain Gang" and "Middle of the Road" rock-radio staples to this day, and her band's albums still wow their critics -- their 2008 record, Break Up the Concrete, was hailed as one of her strongest in years.
Essential Song: "Middle of the Road" (Purchase/Download)
As the frontwoman for the pop-rock Swedish group the Sounds, Maja Ivarsson attracts plenty of attention because of her model looks. But she's also a commanding singer who's not content to play the stereotypical "demure pretty girl" role in the band. In addition, as someone who identifies as bisexual, she's one of the few figures in contemporary rock to address homosexual issues in interviews.
Essential Song: "Living in America" (Purchase/Download)
In their short career, Evanescence have released three studio albums that have combined to go nine-times platinum. Much of the credit for the goth-rock band's success stems from frontwoman Amy Lee, one of the group's principal songwriters. Armed with a slick, mainstream-friendly sound, Evanescence tackle universal themes in their songs such as lost love ("Bring Me to Life") and bad boyfriends ("Call Me When You're Sober," written about Lee's ex-flame, Seether frontman Shaun Morgan).
Essential Song: "Bring Me to Life" (Purchase/Download)
Married to Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain in the early '90s, Courtney Love risked being trapped in his immense shadow. But she and her band Hole established themselves as a major rock force with 1994's Live Through This. Since then, Love has had a hard time maintaining her commercial and critical momentum. Still, between her tabloid scandals, volatile personality and memorable songs, she remains an icon of female rock.
Essential Song: "Violet" (Purchase/Download)