Queer Throughout The Year
Lesbian singer/actress/comedian/writer Lea DeLaria has been challenging our preconceived notions of what an entertainer is for more than 25 (!) years. Queer folks probably knew her first as a raunchy comedian of the highest order (“whack a butt plug,” anyone?) and will also remember her from the gay movie Edge of Seventeen, as well as her show-stopping performance on Broadway in On The Town. Of course, once we heard her sing, we knew exactly what she was born to do. Over the course of her first three musical albums, DeLaria left her distinctively jazzy mark on show-tunes, standards and punk classics. On House of David(Ghostlight/Razor & Tie), DeLaria turns her lez-laser focus on the songs of David Bowie. From the dazzling album cover (a respectful nod to Bowie’s Changesonebowie comp) to her inspired interpretations of “Golden Years,” “Fame,” “Suffragette City” (featuring Janis Siegel of Manhattan Transfer), the dramatic “Modern Love,” the out of this world “Life On Mars” and especially the aptly swinging “Boys Keep Swinging” (which deserves to be a hit!), the house that Lea built is sturdy and architecturally interesting.
There is always something heartbreaking about a posthumous release. The Mean Days(307 Knox), the
second album by queercore trio 8 Inch Betsy, is a good example. Lead singer and main songwriter Meghan Galbraith, who died in 2015 at the age of 35, and band-mates Eli Burke and Melissa Thomas, had a raw energy that owed as much to punk rock and riot grrrl esthetics (“Meant To Mean,” “Uh Oh,” “Avenue,” “Get In The Van” and the title track) as it did to straightforward classic rock and roll (“So Dark,” “I Will Never Go Home,” “Arise” and “Grotesque”). Galbraith’s passing is a loss, but at least we have The Mean Days by which to remember her.
Lesbian singer/songwriter Ana Egge had the distinction of being Ani DiFranco’s opening act during a series of fall 2015 tour dates. Those fortunate enough to be at those shows were able to experience Egge performing some of the songs from her luminous new album Bright Shadow(Grace/Parkinsong). Egge’s previous release, 2011’s mental illness concept album Bad Blood, was produced by Steve Earle, and continued to incorporate a country accent in Egge’s folk tunes. That trend persists on Bright Shadow on which Egge is backed up by modern American trio the Stray Birds. Now married and a mother, Egge also suffered the loss of her own mother to whom she pays glorious tribute on “Rock Me (Divine Mother).” The wistful “Dreamer” celebrates Egge’s own motherhood and her fragrant cover of Dolly Parton’s “Wildflowers” blooms beautifully. Other standouts include “Fifth of July,” “Maps of the Moon” and “The Ballad of Jean Genet.”
The reconfigured domestic re-release of pansexual and androgynous Héloïse Létissier’s eponymous debut as Christine and the Queens (Atlantic/Neon Gold/Because) addresses the gender issue right off the bat with “iT,” on which she sings “I’ve got iT/I’m a man now/and there’s nothing you can/to make me change my mind.” Létissier, who sings in English and French, incorporates synthesizers throughout, but “this ain’t no disco.” The closest we get to (modest) dance beats are in “Safe and Holy” (in which she declares, “As I dance, I am safe and holy”), the euphorically off-center “Tilted” and “Science Fiction.” The album’s centerpiece, a duet with Perfume Genius on “Jonathan” is extraordinary in its dramatic subtlety.
CHRISTINE AND THE QUEENS PERFORM ON JUNE 5 IN NYC AT GOVERNOR’S BALL.
Bradford Cox, queer frontman of the Atlanta dream pop band Dee r h u n the r (and also of Atlas Sound), and Will Toledo aka Car Seat Headrest are part of the growing ranks of out musicians who are forever changing the face of queer music. The songs on Deerhunter’s Fading Frontiers(4AD) range from idiosyncratic indie rock (“Snakeskin,” “Breaker”) to exotic experimentation (“Leather and Wood,” “Ad Astra,” “Living My Life”) and are never boring. Cox and company know how to get and keep our attention, as when he sings, “My friend’s dad got bored/changed his sex and had no more,” in “All The Same.” The head-on collision that is Car Seat Headrest’s Teens Of Style(Matador) is as melodic as it is noisy. A chronic sonic delight that might take a few listens to sink in, but once it does, you won’t be able to stop listening. Standout numbers include “Times To Die,” “The Drum,” “Something Soon,” “Oh! Starving” and “Strangers.”
Telling a lover to leave “nothing but the radio on” is a clever turn of phrase and one that has been used in songs by gay sax man Dave Koz and country dude Gary Allan. Perhaps the most successful application of the wordplay can be found in lesbian singer/songwriter Maia Sharp’s seductive “Nothing But The Radio On,” the catchy opening cut on her new disc The Dash Between The Dates(E-One). Sharp, whose father is songwriter Randy Sharp, has been writing songs for others (Cher, Dixie Chicks, Lizz Wright and Bonnie Raitt) as well as for herself (she released her first album almost 20 years ago) for quite some time and continues to develop into a first-rate performer of her own compositions. “You’re Alive” is a great pop tune deserving of a wide audience. The brilliant “Little Bottles” has the potential to become a country standard as it celebrates sorrowfully drinking yourself into oblivion on an airplane. That’s legendary gay backing vocalist Arnold McCuller on the soaring “Phoenix” and the aforementioned Wright on the stunning “You Know Where I’ll Be.”
Oh, the dreaded sophomore slump. Making matters worse for A Great Big World, the duo made up of Ian Axel and openly gay Chad King, is a thinly disguised apology in the liner notes. The pair’s 2014 debut Is There Anybody Out There? came at a time when other similarly pop-oriented acts such as Fun., Barenaked Ladies and Ben Folds, appeared to be otherwise occupied (or distracted). The hit singles “Say Something,” a Grammy-winning duet with Christina Aguilera, and “This Is The New Year,” as well as “Everyone Is Gay,” held great promise. “Hold Each Other,” the first single from AGBW’s new album When The Morning Comes(Epic/Black Magnetic) has the same queer spirit as Mary Lambert’s “She Keeps Me Warm.” It’s one of a few songs that while immediately catchy, don’t quite live up to what we expected. Part of the problem is that most of the songs were written by committee; too many cooks, etc. All is not lost, songs such as “Oasis,” “One Step Ahead,” “Kaleidoscope” and the title track all have redeeming facets.
Now that Glee and The Sing-Off are no longer on TV, does that mean that the a cappella craze has come to an end? Probably not, because Pitch Perfect and its sequel were both box office hits and there is, no doubt, a sequel in the works. That’s good news for a cappella quintet Pentatonix who, after putting out a number of self-released discs, finally got around to releasing its eponymous full-length major-label debut on RCA. On its previous EPs, Pentatonix, featuring openly gay member Mitch Grassi, focused on its interpretations of songs by others, with an original tune thrown in here and there. With Pentatonix, the group focuses mainly on original collaborations, the most of appealing of which include “Sing,” “Rose Gold,” “Can’t Sleep Love” and “Take Me Home.”
Nothing else sounds (or looks) like Arca (aka gay producer and musician Alejandro Ghersi). A skittering, glitched up aural assault that is alternately soothing and startling; the 20 songs on Arca’s second album, the suitably named Mutant (Mute) make Aphex Twin sound like Lawrence Welk. It’s the kind of musical experience that will send listeners crate-digging for their LP of the Liquid Sky soundtrack. As you might imagine, some songs are more accessible than others, including the title tune, “Front Load,” “Enveloped,” “Alive,” “Soichiro,” “Vanity” and “Anger.”