Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Sound of Queer Music 2015, Vol. 5

Volume five of my five-part, end-of-year series celebrating artists and bands that fucked with the heteronormative cultural bias in 2015.

The Young Professionals. This Israeli electro pop band fronted by Johnny Goldstein and Ivri Lider released an excellent dance-floor-ready album in 2015, Remixes and Covers. The terrific remixes include gems from a diverse slate of artists --  Lana Del Rey, Imagine Dragons, Tegan and Sara. They even reimagined ABBA's "S.O.S" in an energetically alternative way that really works.

TYP: Ivri Lider (left) & Johnny Goldstein (photo: Facebook) 
Song & Video: "All Of It But Me." This collaboration with Austrian vocalist Anna F is about the moment you start to suspect the person you're with doesn't really care about you -- they're thinking about everything but you. The video is a smorgasbord of cool visuals.

Villagers. Sounds like a band name, but it's really Dublin-based singer/songwriter Conor O'Brien. His coming out in 2015 coincided with the release of his third album, Darling Arithmetic, and Ireland's historic marriage equality vote. There's a sweet, tender, mature-beyond-his-age quality about his voice that intensifies the exquisitely intimate folk pop he writes. And don't get me started on those soulful eyes...

Conor O'Brien
Song & Video: "Everything I Am Is Yours." It's a deeply romantic declaration of love, but the video is anything but an amorous affair -- shots of O'Brien alternate with an anonymous young man bearing his soul to strangers. It's a beautifully shot, fascinating and unsettling interpretation of the song. 

Cazwell. I love this NYC-based rapper/songwriter for a couple of reasons: his (often explicit) lyrics shrewdly address current sexual culture, he's a sex pistol, and he has a killer sense of humor.

Cazwell (photo: Facebook)
Song & Video: "The Biscuit." According to the online Urban Dictionary, "biscuit" can be slang for a number of things, like a handgun, someone who is consistently flaky, or booty. I'm pretty sure Cazwell -- collaborating with South African DJ Naaldekoker -- has written an ode to male buttocks here. The video is full of praiseworthy male buttocks and a lot, a lot, of silly Middle-Eastern imagery. Controversial? Politically incorrect? Okay, sure. But take the stick out of your biscuit and it's also sexy and funny.

Tim Carr. I dig the musical idiosyncrasies of this Bay Area singer/songwriter. He got my attention with tracks like "Shake Your Caboose" and "Fame Whore." He can get you on the dance floor or he can just bring a smile to your face. There's a uniquely playful quality to the way he sings a song, but you never get the sense that he doesn't take this music seriously -- he just doesn't take himself too seriously. You can find his music on iTunes or stream it on Soundcloud, here.

Tim Carr (photo: John Nieto)
Song & Video: "Whose Team Are You On?" With this track, Carr obsesses over the mixed signals of a buddy. Well, we've all been there. Here's the official description of the goofy video: Obsession, intrigue, and one creepy peeping janitor. Tim Carr plays a janitor who becomes obsessed with dancers rehearsing while he is cleaning the space around them. Sometimes we'd rather dance than clean toilets. Depending on the shit-uation. 

Stose. He's a Bronx-based queer punk rapper that expertly channeled his anger, anxiety and frustration into a dynamic debut EP, Civil Disobedience. Even MTV noticed: "Stose combines the angry energy of punk rock with social injustice-minded rhymes. With old school hip-hop beats backed by heavy guitars, Stose's sense of style and political awareness make him a force to be reckoned with."  There's a refreshing, unguarded authenticity about this Virginia native; his music is a meaningful wake-up call. You can follow Stose on tumblr. His music is available on iTunes or stream Civil Disobedience and other Stose tracks on Soundcloud, here.

Stose (photo: Jahn Hall)
Song & Video: "Full Blown Panic Attack." According to Stose: "The track is about my personal struggles with becoming more aware, but it is also meant to convey the feelings of helplessness and frustration that many people in my generation, and others, feel on a daily basis." 

Bonus: PRIORY. This Portland-based electro-pop duo consists of Brandon Rush and Kyle Sears.

PRIORY: Kyle Sears (left) & Brandon Rush 
Their excellent four-song EP arrived in late 2014, including a song called "Put 'Em Up" that got released as a single with a video in the summer of 2015. Rush explain what's behind the song: "It's a personal story about watching my brother struggle with being gay in a conservative and religious family. It didn't get any better for him when he joined the military. I'm happy that in the past couple of weeks (referring to the SCOTUS same-sex marriage decision and its aftermath) our country has made a lot of progress in granting the LGBTQ community equality, but we all know we still have a long way to go. When we made the video, we wanted to show regular people doing regular things in an anonymous fashion until they came together in a place of mutual acceptance where everyone had a chance to be free to be whatever they were on the inside or outside."

And here's the gorgeous black and white video for "Put 'Em Up."

Wanna see previous entries in this series? Just follow the the links:

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Sound of Queer Music 2015, Vol. 4

Volume four in a five-part, end-of-year series celebrating artists and bands that fucked with the heteronormative cultural bias in 2015.

Jack Colwell. Upon the release of his first EP -- Only When Flooded Could I Let Go -- Rolling Stone praised this Aussie singer/songwriter as "passionate and unfettered." Colwell had this to say: "The EP is part coming-of-age and part dealing with my sexuality in a changing political and social landscape, learning how to navigate my way through that as a young person. They're introspective songs with a narrative, and I'd hope that some people might hear them and take comfort in the fact that they're not alone. I was a pretty manic person in the past, but I'm a lot more devil-may-care these days. "

Jack Colwell
Song & Video: "Don't Cry Those Tears." Just an excellent dark-but-playful, sensuous, dreamy pop tune. The video is a rather awesome (and possibly NSFW) pastiche of those overheated '80s videos from the early days of MTV. Colwell has a spectacularly campy nervous breakdown in a gay bathhouse surrounded by attractive men. Tears do flow and everything is exaggerated to amusing effect.

Ezra Furman.  
He's Jewish, publicly identifies as queer and genderfluid, and quite good with raw, twisty lyrics and unexpected arrangements. He released his third solo album, Perpetual Motion People, in 2015. MOJO magazine had this to say: "A yowling, nervy, sickeningly eloquent blend of Jonathan Richman, Woody Allen and Armistead Maupin, Furman delivers high-speed drama full of bristling riffs and frazzled joie de vivre."

Ezra Furman
Song & Video: "Lousy Connection." It's doo-wop, saxophone, piano chords and a mighty fine hook inventively delivered by Furman and his band, The Boyfriends -- all of whom appear in the admirably silly video with a lot of eggs and some fried chicken. FYI, The Boyfriends are: Jorgen Jorgensen (bass), Ben Joseph (keyboards, guitar), Sam Durkes (drums) and saxophonist Tim Sandusky.

Will Young. He was the 2001 winner of Pop Idol, the British television music competition that spawned American Idol in the States. With heartthrob written all over him, Young released four number one UK albums and sold over 10 million records. And came out -- a public revelation that didn't derail his career. Instead, his aggressive overachiever personality led to an eventual breakdown in 2012. He re-emerged in 2015 with a new album , 85% Proof -- available as an import from Amazon -- that's a wonderfully expansive, eclectic recording that sweeps through musical genres and personal vulnerability.

Will Young (photo: Tom van Schelven)
Song & Video: "Thank You." It's a sensational take on heartbreak, featuring Young's evocative voice and a female choir. Shot at London's Porchester Baths, the video features choreography by the award-winning Paris-based dance duo I COULD NEVER BE A DANCER. It's a provocative, gripping amplification of the song.

Wanna see more in this series? Volume is here, volume two is here and volume three is here

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Sound of Queer Music 2015, Vol. 3

Volume three in a five-part, end-of-year series celebrating artists and bands that fucked with the heteronormative cultural bias in 2015.

Russell Elliot. R&B is a musical genre without much queer representation, so Elliot -- who identifies as a pansexual feminist -- is engaged in some genuinely groundbreaking work. Bonus: he's an impressive vocalist with serious songwriting skills. You can find his debut EP, Russell Elliot, on iTunes or CD Baby.

Russell Elliot
Song & Video: "Around." Elliot told Huffington Post what inspired the tune: "I fell for a boy in college who wanted me behind closed doors and wanted the rest of his comfortable straight life on the other side of that door partying with the 'normal' kids." It's dusky, contemporary R&B from an unapologetically queer perspective. The video is beautifully directed by Zoe Rain, featuring choreography by the award-winning Kuperman Brothers.

Neon Trees. Here's a fascinating bit of info about this Utah-based quartet: all four members belong to The Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints. Yup, they're Mormons. Since 2010 they've been crafting a smart, catchy hybrid of dance/pop/rock that evokes the '80s but doesn't feel stuck there. In 2014, lead vocalist/keyboardist Tyler Glenn came out as gay in Rolling Stone, causing some controversy. But he addressed it with confident humor via Twitter: "Yes, I am a happy and healthy Mormon gay pop star. I don't know what it all means, but I'm okay with it." And his excellent band didn't skip a beat.

Neon Trees, left to right: Chris Allen, Branden Campbell, Tyler Glenn & Elaine Bradley 
Song & Video: "Songs I Can't Listen To." Don't most of us have at least one song we can't listen to anymore because of its association with someone who broke our heart? Neon Trees has a forceful take on that. And while the band's videos often include covet-worthy outfits and playfully kitschy visuals, this time they've dialed it back to something more reality-based. Glenn and Oscar-winning screenwriter (Milk) and LGBTQ activist Dustin Lance Black appear as a couple headed for a break up. Yes, the band of Mormons went there.

These Australian sisters are the world's biggest female DJ duo. And while they do not identify as L, G, B or T, they are aggressively queer-friendly, playing gay music events, collaborating with a diverse range of artists and featuring same-sex couples in their videos (like the gorgeous clip for "It Feels.").

NERVO: sisters Olivia (left) & Miriam
Song & Video: "The Other Boys." It's throbbing, unabashed 21st Century disco featuring vocals by the Scissor Sisters' Jake Shears and Aussie diva Kylie Minogue. Add legendary producer and guitarist Nile Rodgers to the mix and you get something lively and dazzling. (FYI, the original, extended album version features a lot more of Nile Rodgers' terrific guitar work.)  Campy good fun is the only way to describe the video.

Volume one in this series is here. Volume two is here.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Sound of Queer Music 2015, Vol. 2

Volume two in a five-part, end-of-year series celebrating artists and bands that fucked with the heteronormative cultural bias in 2015.

Bloc Party. This English indie band re-emerged in 2015 with a new rhythm section supporting vocalist Kele Okereke. The release of a pair of singles from a forthcoming album suggests that their creative engine is just fine.
Bloc Party, left to right:  Justin Harris, Louise Bartle, Kele Okereke & Russell Lissack 
Song & Video: "The Love Within." A perfect electronic funk-pop hymn. And the video is pretty irresistible -- just the band and few other folks hanging out at the mall, dancing up a storm.

MIKA. I often think of this Lebanese-born British singer as the pop offspring of Elton John and Freddie Mercury -- he's got a hearty theatrical inclination, a knack for writing freewheeling pop, and an impressive vocal range. In 2015, MIKA released his fourth album, No Place in Heaven, a satisfying marriage of mature themes with playful pop.

MIKA (born Michael Holbrook Penniman, Jr.)
Song & Video: "Good Guys." This is an example of what MIKA does really well: blend not-so-mainstream lyrics -- like Where have all the gay guys gone? -- with a repurposed Oscar Wilde quote and an arrangement that includes a children's choir. Damn. Then he lets the Paris-based duo known as I COULD NEVER BE A DANCER choreograph the video to sublime effect.

Vanessa Carlton. In 2002, at the age of 21, Vanessa Carlton released "A Thousand Miles" to widespread worldwide success. It's catchy and charming and bursting with youthful exuberance. People expecting more of the same on subsequent albums were surely surprised to find that Carlton's songwriting took a more confessional tone with personal introspection way beyond the sweetly yearning lyrics of that big hit single. In 2010, Carlton came out as bisexual while performing at the Nashville Pride festival.

Vanessa Carlton
Song & Video: "Operator." Carlton told Billboard that the song is about an older woman convincing a younger man to leave his family to be with her. "Also, the song happens to be about a woman and a boy, but it could easily be the story of two women or two men." So lyrically, it's a thousand miles away from "A Thousand Miles," And her maturation as an artist is a beautiful thing to behold. The moody video skips Carlton's backstory for a different idea. The director "basically reversed the age-old story of kids running away and instead had the parents run away."

Volume one in this series is here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Holiday Music Sampler 2015

Can't locate your holiday spirit? Here's a gaggle of holiday tunes. Maybe one will get you there.

Home Free. Performing since the early 2000s, this Minneapolis-based a cappella quintet won NBC's The Sing-Off in 2013. In 2014 they released a holiday album, the nostalgic-but-refreshing Full of Cheer. 

Home Free
"Angels We Have Heard on High." Impeccable arrangement; superb showcase for their range of voices.

For more about these guys -- Austin Brown, Rob Lundquist, Chris Rupp, Tim Foust and Adam Rupp -- check out their website, Facebook page or YouTube channel.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings.  These funk/soul revivalists have been around since 1996. There have been personnel changes among the Dap-Kings, but Sharon Jones has remained out front fiercely singing an eclectic range of material. Their 2015 holiday release -- It's a Holiday Soul Party -- is not your ordinary Christmas album. Jones and the Dap-Kings just might make you get up and dance.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
"White Christmas." This is how you breathe new life into a familiar old carol.

Tracey Thorn. She's one half of the (currently inactive) '80 duo Everything But the Girl. In 2012 she brought her wistful, subdued style to a holiday album -- Tinsel and Lights -- an emotionally resonant mix of mostly new tunes.

Tracey Thorn (photo: Edward Bishop)
"Joy." Forthright sentiment and a lovely arrangement.

De Staat. I only discovered these Dutch alternative rockers earlier this year. There's a compelling mix of madness and mischief about them that I like.

De Staat (photo: Isabelle Renate la Poutre)
"Let It Snow." It's an enthusiastically unconventional take on a holiday classic. And the video features the kind of Santa that no parent ever wants to encounter at the mall.

Well-Strung. They're the talented and sexy string quartet of gay men who've carved out a niche for themselves by mixing pop and classical music.

Left to right: Christopher Marchant (second violin), Edmund Bagnell (first violin),
Daniel Shevlin (cello) & Trevor Wadleigh (viola)
"Silent Night." Traditional with a twist. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Sound of Queer Music 2015, Vol. 1

Volume one in a five-part, end-of-year series celebrating artists and bands that fucked with the heteronormative cultural bias in 2015.

The Knocks. They're Ben Ruttner and James Patterson, an NYC-based producing duo who initially gained recognition for remixing artists like Haim, Santigold, Chiddy Bang, Ellie Goulding, Passion Pit and Katy Perry, among others. Then they started experimenting with their own sound -- sparkling, funky, carefree electronic dance music -- and collaborating with a diverse bunch of vocalists. They've released a couple of EPs and will be touring in 2016. May the momentum be with them.

Ben "DJ B-Roc" Ruttner & James "JPatt" Patterson
Song & Video: "Collect My Love." It's a sumptuous dance tune elevated by vocalist Alex Newell, best known for his portrayal of Glee's transgender character, Unique. The video features the very charismatic Newell, a glimpse of Downtown Manhattan's underground club culture and cameos by some rising drag stars.

John Grant. It's been a turbulent journey for Grant -- troubled youth, severe depression, drug addiction, testing positive for HIV. But his climb up from rock bottom has produced strikingly idiosyncratic electronic pop -- alternately witty and acerbic, profoundly personal and honest. He released his third (and most experimental) album this year, after relocating to Iceland.  Yes, Iceland. God, I love this man. The Guardian did an excellent profile on Grant in 2015 -- it's here.

John Grant ... and friend.
Song & Video: "Disappointing." It's a disco-house love song from Grant's unique point of view -- he lists the things that are now disappointing compared to the one he loves. It's got a retro hook and guest vocals by Tracey Thorn (one half of Everything But the Girl). The video follows Grant into a gym that transforms into a gay bathhouse. Oh, and there's cake. It's not disappointing. Nope.

Indiana Queen. This Nashville-based alternative country trio -- fronted by openly queer Kevin Thornton -- is confidently taking its place in a traditionally conservative musical genre. "I have no interest in pretending to be someone else. I don't care if Nashville isn't ready for it," says Thornton. Upon the release of their latest album -- This I Do Carry Unto the End -- he quipped,  "The album is country, but let's be serious, there is nothing traditional about Indiana Queen." You can visit their website here.

Indiana Queen, left to right: Kevin Thornton, Chris Housman & Samuel Damewood
Song & Video: "With You." A tender, poignant, expertly crafted ballad. The video stars Thornton and his real-life partner having an intimate encounter. "We found each other in our 40s," Thornton told Huffington Post. "We had both given up on love in some ways. The video shows two people like that who have been beat up by love and life. Gay or straight, that's something anyone can relate to."

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Queerlicue #7

Queerlicue* noun, kwir~li~kyoo
1. like a curlicue, but with a queer flourish
2. something amusingly odd, strikingly unconventional or accidentally fabulous

* Yeah, I made up that word.


De Staat. They're Dutch alternative rockers who make cool, vigorous music...

De Staat
... and memorable, quirky videos -- like this one for "Witch Doctor." It appears to be inspired by the whirling/spinning dance meditation of Sufism, the mystical Islamic belief system. And it's rather amazing. (I will not, however, attempt to make sense of the lyrics.)

Well-Strung. This NYC-based string quartet has considerable fun fusing classical and pop music.

Well-Strung, left to right:
Edmund Bagnell, Christopher Marchant, Trevor Wadleigh & Daniel Shevlin
They've fiddled around with everything from Kelly Clarkson to Frozen's "Let It Go," but surely no one was expecting them to reach all the way back to 1979 for "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" -- a country crossover hit recorded by The Charlie Daniels Band. Since it's release, Mr. Daniels has become more infamous for his racist and homophobic rants than his music, so it's a kick to see an all-gay band make a mashup of his song and Bach's "Double Violin Concerto."

You can find Well-Strung's music on iTunes, Amazon and CD Baby.

Hard Ton. The Italian duo of DJ Wawashi and Max create some damn fine acid house disco.

Hard Ton: DJ Wawashi (left) and Max
Real names: Mauro Copeta and Massimo Bastasi
Great music would be enough, but these guys also enjoy making amusingly arty, over-the-top videos that feature plus-sized Max in all his uninhibited glory. And makeup. And costumes. Example: "Make Me Dance." What the guys had to say about it: "For this new video we wanted to add disturbing and obsessive elements to a hyper-candy-pop imaginary world, in order to create an acid hallucination, halfway between Mark Ryden's paintings and Alejandro Jodorowsky's celluloid visions, so that the hysterical mood of the track could be emphasized as much as possible."

Most of Hard Ton's music is available on iTunes. The rest of their videos are on their YouTube channel, here. And I'll just let Max have the final word: