Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Sound of Queer Music, Vol. 7

Celebrating artists and bands that fuck with the heteronormative cultural bias...

Mister E Machine. In late 2014, these Chicago-based indie rockers released a a 7-song EP entitled Shooting Stars. Rock in Chicago Magazine called it "one of the best acoustic rock albums of the last several years." From the unabashedly personal original material by songwriter/vocalist Manny Capozzi to a cover of Kylie Minogue's Can't Get You Out of My Head, these guys  offer up a captivating blend of acoustic pop rock and harmonies. Check out their website here. Easily one of my favorite discoveries of 2015.

Mister E Machine, left to right: David Ladon (bass),
Perry Simmons (backing vocals), Chuck Harling (drums) & Manny Capozzi (vocals/guitar)
Song & Video: "Rosa Marie." It's an anti-bullying tune in honor of frontman Capozzi's older sister, who stood up for him when he was tormented for being an overweight gay kid. Capozzi says it's not just a song about bullying, it's "a song about gratitude." (Side note: songs about bullying are often bleak and treacly; Mister E Machine successfully takes a far more upbeat, energizing route.) The video, funded by a Kickstarter campaign, features the band and their childhood counterparts tackling a backstory about bullying.

Shamir. On Twitter, 20-year-old Shamir uses this description: "musician, comedian, singer, rapper, twerker, chef, writer, filmmaker, skinny fat ass." His summer 2014 EP, Northtown, prominently featured his distinctive high tenor gliding through experimental electro-funk. People noticed. On the surprise follow-up fall single -- "On the Regular" -- Shamir raps with cheeky exuberance and wit. His debut album Ratchet was released in May. For more about him, consider reading his spring 2015 interview with NPR here.

Shamir (photo by Ruvan)
Song & Video: "On the Regular." With it's cowbell-heavy production and bright synth changes, this is bouncy rap with a decidedly queer attitude. The minimalist-but-colorful video prominently features Shamir, with special guest appearances by a disco ball and a Fisher-Price toy. (There's some explicit language in the lyrics.)

Double Duchess. This San Francisco-based duo consists of Krylon Superstar and davO. What they do is a bracing blend of performance art and electro hop. Krylon feels like the offspring 1970s divas Sylvester and Grace Jones; davO is an innovative producer and vocalist with a vivid imagination and a face that activates my lust. Their latest album, All Eyes On Me, is out now. Check out their website here.

Double Duchess: Krylon Superstar (left) & davO
Song & Video: "Good Girl Freak Out (featuring Future People)." Attitude, camp and an beat. Simply put, it's throbbing dancefloor gold. For the video, the duo surround themselves with some hellacious dancers, crazy good visuals and Kelly Osbourne as a sort of reimagined Jem (of the classic '80s animated Jem and the Holograms).  Note: there's some explicit language in this one.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Sound of Queer Music, Vol. 6

Celebrating artists and bands that fuck with the heteronormative cultural bias...

Homer Marrs and the Excellent Adventure. I've followed Chicago-based indie musician Homer Marrs for a couple of years now as a solo act. There's an observational, stand-up comic vibe to his music. Now Marrs, his guitar and quirky sense of humor have successfully merged with a band, the Excellent Adventure. He sums up this collaboration on his YouTube channel: "We are at once stupid and fierce."

Homer Marrs (top left) and the Excellent Adventure
Song & Video: "It's Amazing." A witty, winning  blast of pop rock. The video features Homer and the band, plus Gia Gunn, a contestant from season 5 of RuPaul's Drag Race, and a bevy of enthusiastic drag performers.

Baathhaus. They're a Chicago-based queer-performance-art-group-band that weaves its songs together with narrative, choreography and costumes. More specifically, they describe the music as "queer-electro-fuck." Yes, that's fuck, not funk. Need more info? Website is here.

Left to right: Jesse Hozeny, Jesse Young, Dan Foley & Patrick Andrews
Song & Video: "Cave Song." Frontman Dan Foley describes the song as "a stream of consciousness of musings on your past self and looking back at growing up gay." Don't worry, you can definitely dance to it. The video is inspired by a classic Italian horror film (Suspiria) and a soft-core gay film (Pink Narcissus). Directed by Katie Isaacson, it's erotically theatrical, plenty queer and bathed in glitter. Thus, it's not really safe for work... unless you work in a gay bar or an adult superstore.

Tawnee Kendall and the Hangover Brigade. This San Francisco-based solo performer needed a backup band to record her debut album back in 2011. A musically diverse group of friends came to together and the Hangover Brigade was born -- after some whiskey-soaked evenings. For more about Tawnee and the band, go here. The Hangover Brigade's YouTube channel is here.

Song & Video: "Exit Strategy." According to Kendall, it's a love song about having someone you can depend on to get you out of any situation. Conceived as a duet, Kendall works a folk pop groove with Jeb Havens. The video -- shot in Guernville, California -- is just the band doing it's lovingly-crafted thing. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

2015 Eurovision Song Contest Sampler

Eurovision Song Contest. It's my pop culture guilty pleasure... that I don't feel remotely guilty about. Broadcast every year since 1956, it's one of the longest-running television programs in the world. In 2014, Eurovision drew an audience of nearly 200 million. All active members of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) can take part -- 40 countries are sending artists to compete in Vienna, Austria this year. The 2015 winner, chosen via a combination of televoting and juries, will be announced May 23rd. It's all done live for the contest, but you can find performance clips or music videos for all the songs online. I can't show you all 40 acts, so I picked seven -- personal favorites, one surprising entry, real contenders and the odds-on favorite to win.

Australia: "Tonight Again" by Guy Sebastian. Eurovision has been broadcast in Australia for 30 years. It's wildly popular there even though they don't compete. This year, in honor of the 60th anniversary and in recognition of Australia's fandom, the country was invited to participate. Their choice is enormously popular Guy Sebastian, the first winner of Australian Idol in 2003. My prediction: The song is semi-funky dance pop that should easily propel Sebastian into the Top 5. Goodwill towards Australia will help. His website is here.

Russia: "A Million Voices" by Polina Gagarina. It was only a few years ago that Russia took second place with a gaggle of grandmothers in traditional garb singing "Party For Everybody." Last year they sent two wholesome blonde sisters who performed with their hair tied to together. I'm not making this up. This year's entry is a shameless, calculated feel-good anthem about the world's people believing in a dream because we all shine like stars and our hearts beats like drums. To be fair, Polina Gagarina sings the hell out of it. Won't win, but if someone ever imprisons Vladimir Putin for crimes against humanity or something, I hope they make him listen to this until he gets the dry heaves. (And the video is like the longest life insurance ad ever made.) My prediction: It will go -- bafflingly --Top 10.

Israel: "Golden Boy " by Nadav Guedj. This is a personal favorite that doesn't have the slightest chance of winning or even landing in the Top 10. But Nadav Guedj is having a blast as it coyly builds to an irresistibly goofball dance song. Also, he's adorable. My prediction: Might squeak into the Top 20.

Serbia: "Beauty Never Lies" by Bojana Stamenov. 

Bojana Stamenov
Another personal favorite. Basically, if you're going to write a dance-pop anthem, this is how you do it. Stamenov goes full diva before it's over and just owns this song. Lots of people can relate to these lyrics:

Finally I can say
Yes I'm different 
And it's okay
Here I am

This video was created by editing together footage of Stamenov and fan submissions recorded on cameras and smartphones. An alternate video, featuring her in a smashing red dress is here.  My prediction: Regrettably, it won't make the Top 10. But it will probably make some queer folk happy.

Finland: "Aina Mun Pitaa" by Pertti Kurikan Nimipaivat. I'll let bass player Sami Helle explain: "The members of our band are four middle-aged, mentally handicapped men. The music is, of course, Finnish punk." All they want to do, the band claims, it raise awareness of people with learning disabilities and "have a fucking good time along the way." Eurovision purists may be squirming, but I think it's pretty cool. English translation of the song's title: I always have to. It's assertive and brisk -- clocking in at about a minute and a half. I really want to see this done live. My prediction: Top 10.

Italy: "Grande Amore" by Il Volo.  They're an Italian pop opera trio consisting of Piero Barone, Ignazio Boschetto and Gianluca Ginoble. English translation for their name: The Flight.

Il Volo
One of only a handful of acts that will perform in their native language, these guys are becoming very popular outside Europe. "Grande Amore" (translation: great love) is one of those ballads that gradually and skillfully swells into an effusive track that sucks you right in, even if you can't understand a word they're singing. My prediction: This seductive blast of popera with go Top 5, maybe even Top 3. Their website is here.

The video essentially concedes that what we have here is a pop opera boy band, then brazenly riffs on a trio of famous Hollywood movie scenes. It's silly, gorgeous and, well, a little bit operatic.  

Sweden: "Heroes" by Mans Zelmerlow. He's a native Swede that the news/media website BuzzFeed described as, "so handsome it hurts."

Mans Zelmerlow
This one has winner written all over it. It pretty much defines the state of modern pop music. And it's got one of those killer hooks that lodges in your head and periodically demands to be sung out loud. My prediction: Barring an upset or surprise, here's your winner.

Examples of why BuzzFeed declared Mans so handsome it hurts...

Usually when I see a photo like this I think, "sunscreen." Not this time.

For a 2014 Swedish awards show, he did a playful parody of Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" video.

UPDATE: Sweden won!

Thanks for indulging me with this one!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Queer Cinephile(s) #34: Vertigo

I'm a gay dude who loves movies -- a queer cinephile. I studied film in college and once reviewed movies for a TV station (don't get excited; it was way back in the 20th century). For this blog series, I'm watching and reviewing 50 films I've never seen before -- Oscar bait, indie darlings, black & white classics, blockbusters, cult flicks and weird shit my friends keep recommending. Go on, say it: "I can't believe you've never seen..."

 (released May 1958)

James Stewart as John "Scottie" Ferguson in Vertigo.
This image is from a nightmare sequence in which he morphs into the Wizard of Oz for a second. 

Here's the original theatrical trailer...

What the Queer Cinephile Says: Vertigo's opening sequence -- lasting all of a minute and half -- plays like a bad dream. Police Detective John "Scottie" Ferguson" (James Stewart) and another cop are chasing a felon across some San Francisco rooftops at night. Scottie slips. As he dangles from a gutter about half a dozen stories above the street, the other cop attempts to rescue him. "Give me your hand!" he yells, just before plummeting to his own death. It doesn't feel real -- you expect Scottie to wake up from a nightmare, drenched in sweat. Nope, it happened. We never learn exactly how Scottie managed to survive the incident himself, but he tells his lovelorn college sweetheart Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) that the aftermath has left him with a fear of heights, known as acrophobia. And acrophobia can cause vertigo, a feeling of dizziness associated with being in a very high place. Vertigo is also a much better name for a movie than Acrophobia.

Scottie retires from the police force, but agrees to do some private detective work for Gavin Elster, another old college friend. Elster married well and became a shipping magnate, but now has a quandary about his wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak). "Scottie, do you believe that someone out of the past, someone dead, can enter and take possession of a living being?" See, Gavin doesn't want Scottie to follow Madeleine around because he suspects she's an adulteress. He just thinks she's possessed by her own great grandmother, a woman that died in 1857. And so Scottie follows Madeleine to various locations -- her great grandmother's tombstone, a museum where a painting of the woman hangs, and even an old hotel that's only slightly less foreboding than the one in Psycho. Baffled, Scottie recruits Midge for some research and they visit a San Francisco historian who connects the dots: the old hotel had once been the great grandmother's home, she was abandoned by her wealthy husband, separated from her only child, went mad and committed suicide.

Fortunately, I'd never read a single review of Vertigo before I watched it, so nothing was spoiled for me. But this is an Alfred Hitchcock movie. The celebrated director didn't do ghosts or demons or possession. Everything about his film work suggests that he believed human beings are capable of sinister, monstrous things because of individual motivations or a personality disorder. So I was not remotely surprised that the eventual explanation for Madeleine's behavior doesn't involve anything supernatural. And, of course, Scottie falls in love with Madeleine -- the only way you wouldn't see that coming is if you'd never watched another movie in your entire life.

As Scottie, James Stewart gets to play a man with acrophobia and vertigo, then acute melancholia with a twist of guilt (yeah, that's a thing), and finally he's consumed by unrelenting obsession. I'm not a James (It's a Wonderful Life) Stewart fan at all, but Hitchcock pulled quite a performance out of him -- before it's over, he's a fervent, anguished mess. As Madeleine, a stunning and excellent Kim Novak is just the right combination of strange and alluring -- it's as if she's bathed in a mysterious dreamlike aura. In contrast, there's Scottie's down-to-earth college sweetheart Midge, played by Barbara Bel Geddes (known to '80s night time soap fans as Miss Ellie on Dallas). She's a nice lingerie designer with a funky cool little San Francisco apartment that would probably rent for $4,500 a month today. Midge has a bittersweet, unrequited crush on an oblivious Scottie, and there's nothing she can do as he becomes increasingly obsessed with the gorgeous, enigmatic Madeleine. Spoiler alert: It doesn't end well.

Vertigo received mixed reviews back in 1958 and only broke even at the box office. It was removed from circulation for a long time, but finally given another U.S. theatrical run in 1983 and released on home video in 1984. Proving commercially successful with '80s viewers, many contemporary critics reevaluated the movie. By 1989 it was recognized as "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. In 1996, Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert called it "one of the two or three best films Hitchcock ever made." Then something genuinely amazing happened to Vertigo: it was named the greatest film of all time by Sight & Sound,  the British Film Institute's film magazine. Every ten years since 1952, Sight & Sound has asked the world's leading film critics to compile a list of the 10 best films of all time. Vertigo entered their list at 7th in 1982, then placed 4th in 1992, jumped to second place in 2002, and took first place in 2012. Most astonishing, Vertigo bumped Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941) from the top spot, a position it had held since 1962!

Vertigo is a far-fetched but insanely compelling mashup of mystery, melodrama and romance. I can agree that it deserves preservation in the National Film Registry, but I'm going to have to disagree with Sight & Sound over that greatest-film-of-all-time acknowledgment. Vertigo is not a better film than Orson Welles' Citizen Kane. I studied Kane in college; it's a flat-out masterpiece that changed American filmmaking. In my opinion, Vertigo is not even Alfred Hitchcock's greatest film. I'd argue that Rebecca (1940) or Rear Window (1954) are superior works. And if you want to call any one of his films "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant," look no further than Psycho (1960).

Vertigo is the first film in this blog series that left me genuinely conflicted. I admired some of Hitchcock's choices, including long dialogue-free sequences, the use of San Francisco area locations and some splendid camerawork and cinematography (which would later be replicated by directors like Steven Spielberg and Brian DePalma). But a couple of things really bothered me. I was troubled by one nagging plot hole. Bernard Herrmann's score is frequently terrific, but there are moments when it sounds awfully similar to music he composed for Psycho two years later. There's a psychedelic nightmare sequence that looks like an experimental blooper. And it just feels too long. Then I watched it again. After a second viewing, my verdict on Vertigo: it's a great film.  The central performances are outstanding and the final thirty minutes are riveting. All the things that bothered me the first time I saw it were still there, and that led me to the obvious conclusion: even great films have flaws.

Stray Gay Observations:

Vertigo's main theme music is cleverly sampled for the opening sequence of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City mini-series that originally aired on PBS in 1993.

As far back as silent films, Hollywood has been obsessed with female eyebrows. Some of the earliest stars had their eyebrows completely shaved off, then drawn back on with a grease pencil. The desired arch and fullness have evolved over time, but the trend toward a more natural look didn't really arrive until the1960s. Below, Kim Novak has a common 1950s look. The arch is softer and her real hair is enhanced with a pencil to make it look darker and fuller. Vertigo was shot in color using the higher resolution wide-screen VistaVision format, so Novak's eyebrows didn't really have a chance at looking natural -- they look like they were painted on by someone in the makeup department.

Kim Novak
One of the original problems I had with Vertigo is the significant (and obvious) age difference between James Stewart and Kim Novak. He was 49 and she was 24 at the time the film was made. At first the disparity irritated me, but then I realized Vertigo is way more serious about obsession than love. As it progresses, that age difference adds an extra measure of creepiness to what's happening. Although Hitchcock deemed Vertigo one of his favorite films, he wasn't shy about blaming it's tepid box office and indifferent critical response on James Stewart. Stewart, he claimed, was too old to be a convincing love interest for Kim Novak. So here's what I'd say to Hitch if we could resurrect him for a chat: Oh, Alfred, please. You cast the man. You also cast Barbara Bel Geddes as his old college sweetheart. Bel Geddes was 35 when you made the movie. So she was roughly 15 years younger than Stewart. Was he her professor at this college? And incidentally, you also cast Tom Helmore as Novak's husband. He was even older than Stewart -- 54! Consider this: Maybe 1958 audiences didn't connect with your movie because it was an unexpected departure from the romantic thriller promised by the trailer. Your movie is dark. Very dark. Your leading man is an emotionally disturbed abject failure. Your ending is cruel and shocking; it offers no solace. In other words, your film was way ahead of its time. So let's just be thankful for all those people who rescued it from obscurity back in the 1980s.  

Should You See It? There are Hitchcock films I find a lot more satisfying, entertaining or disturbing than Vertigo -- RebeccaStrangers on a TrainRear Window and Psycho. And I definitely have some personal reservations about it, but that wouldn't stop me from recommending Vertigo. It may be flawed, but I can't deny that Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is also an audacious, twisted and risky motion picture that deserves to be seen and discussed .
Next Time: Cabaret (1972)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Queerlicue #2

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.


Kazaky. They're a Ukrainian-based synthpop/dance boy band that's been around since 2010.

Kazaky (a current iteration; the lineup seems to change every year)
Although kazaky is Ukrainian for "Cossacks," the revolving members of this group claim their name has nothing to do with Russian history's self-governing military communities, but is rather a derivative form of the Japanese word Kazaki, a popular name for boys in Japan. Personally, I'd have gone with the Cossack thing. Anyway, they gained attention outside the Ukraine back in 2012 after appearing as backup dancers in Madonna's video for "Girls Gone Wild." They aren't just dancing. They're dancing in heels. Stiletto heels. In one of their more recent videos -- below -- they have some fun fusing hyper-masculine and feminine fashion together.

Ke$ha & The Veterans. Four men who served in the armed forces -- Mat, Jarred, Rocco and Derek -- were looking for a way to acknowledge Veteran's Day 2014 and promote their clothing line, Article 15. The solution? A lip dub video shot in a car. The twist? Rapper/singer/songwriter Ke$ha pops up from the back seat to pick the song -- "Your Love Is My Drug," her 2010 hit. And then they all make complete fools of themselves.

If you'd like to check out Article 15's irreverently butch t-shirts or beard care products, go here.

Deviant Otter & "All About That Bass." After shooting a handful of porn scenes, the tumblr sensation known as Deviant Otter became a do-it-yourself adult filmmaker himself. His videos have an uninhibited, unscripted style that the SexFlexible blog called "an unapologetic display of natural, organic, real sex." In other words, he's found a niche in the competitive world of amateur porn. I'm not going to show you one of his fuck scenes -- I'm certain you can figure out how to find those yourself. (Side note: If I was 20 years younger, I'd kidnap this man. Or, at the very least, I'd make porn with him.)

Deviant Otter (photo via his website)
Turns out he's pretty frisky and talented outside the bedroom as well. In his spare time, D.O. and some friends put together a funny, sexy parody of "All About That Bass," Meghan Trainor's 2014 funky pop hit. This is no lip dub -- it's a brand new recording of the song. I can probably get you to watch this just by letting you know he strips down to his underwear, but the whole endeavor is giddy indulgence. Deviant Otter has some moves. And he can twerk.

Wanna see Queerlicue #1? It's here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Beards of Modern Music, Vol. 3

There's a facial hair renaissance going on out there, folks. This series is all about the bearded men who make music. Check out the fuzz and stubble, but stick around for the sound.

The Timbers. They're four men from Down Under -- Simon Basey, Benjamin Roberts, Kyle Vause, Joe Murphy --  who describe their sound as "Raucous Alternative High Energy Modern Australian Folk." Find out more on their website, Facebook page or YouTube channel.

The Timbers, left to right: Joe Murphy, Kyle Vause, Simon Basey & Benjamin Roberts 

Song & Video: "Mean Streak." Catchy, rambunctious as hell, and I bet they have you singing the refrain before it's over. The video is a great example of what a good imagination can do with a low budget.

Synoptix. It's the musical project from a trio of dudes out of Yekaterinburg, Russia. The sound -- a satisfying evolution from their 2010 debut album -- is a blend of beatbox, electronics and electric guitar. Think rock infused with hip hop, funk and lounge. Disarming but gutsy -- and vocalist Alexey Bobylev is my current music man crush. They're recording new tracks as I write this, so -- fingers crossed -- there'll be a new album this year (or they'll release the singles, at least). For now, there's more music on their YouTube channel.

Synoptix, left to right: Alexey Bobylev, Vitaly Finsky & Denis Burhanov

Song & Video: "I Had a Soul." It's an impeccably arranged breakup tune that puts Bobylev's voice up front. Shot on a makeshift stage in an art gallery, the video is a live performance that captures the band's enthusiasm and skill, as well as Bobylev's impressive vocal range.

Carl Espen. At 17 he won a local singing competition and started to believe a career in music was possible. Sidetracked by military service and a day job in the glass business, it wasn't until he was 31 that he got an enormous break: Mr. Espen was Norway's 2014 Eurovision Song Contest entry with a genuinely intimate and evocative ballad called "Silent Storm." Written by his younger cousin, Espen took the song into the Top 10. Post-Eurovision, looks like he might get a shot at that career after all. Check out his website here.

Carl Espen

Song & Video: "Holding On." The tune feels personal, touching on a universal theme: knowing when it's time to let go in a relationship and move on. The lovely plaintive quality of Espen's voice suits it perfectly. Sounds like a downer, right? Nah, it's sneakily hopeful. The video was shot in Oslo, Norway, a city you rarely see represented in pop culture. But the real draw is Carl Espen. The man has a presence; he doesn't need to wave his arms or beat his chest to hold your attention.

Wanna see the first two volumes in this series? Click on either link below.

Volume 1
Volume 2

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Sound of Queer Music, Vol. 5

Celebrating artists and bands that fuck with the heteronormative cultural bias...

The Chew Toys. Formed in 2012, they're a California queercore duo who promise to "get you drunk, singing and deaf." Don't know what queercore means? Think homopunk garage rock 'n roll. In late 2014, drummer/vocalist Jay Tag told music website CMJ that he and bandmate Kevin Dickson bonded over "a silly idea to get drunk and write songs about our friends and take the piss out of stuff." Guitarist/vocalist Dickson adds, "However, as a gay dude, if I'm gonna write a song that's sexy, it's gonna be about a guy. We set out to have those same dumb sex songs like Kiss had on Rock & Roll Over, but about guys. It's not a gimmick, it's how I'd write about sex." Oh, and they're married. To each other. Bet you didn't see that coming. They're self-titled debut album was released in late 2014. You can hear the songs on Soundcloud and purchase the album (vinyl or digital) on their website. To read the entire CMJ interview, go here.

The Chew Toys are Kevin Dickson (left) & Jay Tag (photo: Dave Ehrlich)

Song & Video: "Leather Sweater." According these guys, the song "is about being so hot for a guy you want to basically tear him apart." The video is an endearingly low-budget psychedelic kick.

Brett Gleason. He was asked to describe himself in a 2012 interview with PopCultureZ: "I'm a solo artist from Brooklyn -- I play piano, manipulate electronics and take my shirt off." He's also gay and candidly open about being bi-polar. As his official bio suggests, "Gleason knows what it's like to live a life of intensity outside the mainstream and his music reflects this." The sound is raw and intimate with a palpable melancholy, but it's simultaneously vigorous, progressive and unabashedly theatrical. In other words, Gleason's work defies pop conventions and really challenges the listener. His self-produced, self-titled debut album was released mid-2014 and is available on his website or iTunes. (All the amazing lyrics are on his website, too.)

Brett Gleason (photo: Nicolas Smith)

Song & Video. "I Am Not." Gleason describes the song as a kind of mantra: "It started as something I'd repeat to myself when I felt overwhelmed or hopeless -- an assertion that reminded me I've been through worse and have proven stronger than I ever hoped." The video -- his first, filmed with friends in late 2009 -- is an eerie little murder mystery filmed in his grandmother's Connecticut backyard.

Top Less. This promising Canadian band released their debut album in 2013 -- and with a name like Top Less Gay Love Tekno Party it was bound to draw some attention. The sound is a brash amalgam of electro, dance and glam pop; their live shows are vibrant and theatrical, featuring props, costumes, video projections and -- shudder -- glitter. In a 2013 interview with The Lab Magazine, Top Less co-founder Mike Shindler said: "I would say our shows and music are an acknowledgment of the absurdity of many aspects of human life and then lighting the wick and hoping for an explosion." You can check out their website here.

Top Less (photo: Shea Pollard & Ola Cholewa)

Song & Video: "Danger Love." The song is about those early stages of love, when hearts are tender and vulnerable. Building to something almost anthemic, it soars and swirls and becomes unexpectedly exhilarating. For the video, Top Less essentially answers the question: What does an unabashedly theatrical band do in the woods? They become pixies or tree spirits or sprites... or something... and dance (well, it's actually a form of interpretive movement called Eurythmie). Oh, and they summon some kind of Christ-like figure. Honestly, I have no idea what they're doing here, but it's awesome. And so is the song.

Want to check out other volumes in this series? Just click on any link below.

2014 year-end compilations: Volume 1 -- Volume 2 -- Volume 3 -- Volume 4