Hercules & Love Affair featuring John Grant. Formed in 2004, Hercules & Love Affair is a collaborative disco-house project from DJ Andy Butler that features a rotating cast of musicians and vocalists. Yup, there's disco in Butler's DNA, but the sound is a unique and ambitious revival. For his 2014 album -- The Feast of the Broken Heart -- Butler collaborated with gay singer/songwriter John Grant, inviting him to write some lyrics.
|John Grant (left) & Andy Butler (photo: Linda Nylind of The Guardian)|
Song & Video: "I Try to Talk to You." Butler recalls of Grant: "He tackled the story of becoming HIV+, and while I mentioned to him that he did not need to go there if he was not comfortable, in that beautifully punky, spirited and courageous way he has about him, he told me that was what the song was going to be about. What came of it is an elegant song featuring John singing and playing his heart out." Serious and haunting, yes, but also a shimmering dance track. The evocative video depicts two men engaged in a lover's quarrel -- all done through an enthralling interpretive dance.
Angel Haze. One of the emerging stars of contemporary rap, she's outspoken and brutally honest about a past that includes childhood sexual abuse and growing up in a cult-like family. Haze describes herself as pansexual and adds, "Love isn't defined by gender." Not even 25 yet, she's kind of amazing for someone who wasn't even allowed to listen to secular music as a kid. Her debut album, Dirty Gold, is flawed but filled with some brilliant moments.
|Angel Haze (AKA Raeen Roes Wilson)|
Song & Video: "Battle Cry." One of Dirty Gold's strongest tracks, the song is about overcoming a painful past, more specifically her own. The verses are personal, the chorus is killer. The video -- beautifully shot and punctuated by some unsettling imagery -- portrays a highly stylized version of events from her own life. (Heads up: It could be a trigger for folks that have experienced childhood sexual abuse or mistreatment in the name of religion.)
MRF. That's jazz musician Mike Flanagan. He's worked with a diverse range of artists, including Grammy winner Esperanza Spaulding. He first came to my attention in 2013 with the release of an empowering anthem called "Be Strong (LGBT Youth)." In 2014 he independently released his second album -- Mob Music -- and it became the highest-selling jazz album in the country on iTunes within 24 hours. Flanagan, who plays multiple instruments, describes his sound as a hybrid of R&B and jazz. His official website is here.
|MRF himself, Mr. Mike Flanagan (photo by Patrick Lentz)|
Song & Video: "Trying" featuring Lisa Bello, Justin Waithe & Yasko Kubota. Flanagan humbly calls the song a "radio single." It's really a satisfying and relatable jazz pop groove -- and his trio of vocalists are flawless. Flanagan had this to say about the video (which features himself and another musclebear): "My goal for the narrative of this video was to depict the beauty, as well as the normalcy in love and love-lost as represented by two men." Fans of fur and beefcake will surely find it irresistible.
Logan Lynn. On his Facebook page a few years back, Lynn listed "Sex & Guilt, mostly" as his musical influences. More recently, he's added this: "Whatever. Let's dance." Those things make him sound a lot less serious than he really is. This guy is is a writer, composer, singer, producer, LGBTQ activist and TV personality. Based in Portland, Oregon, Lynn has released seven albums, six EPs and over a dozen music videos. And to me, his voice has has an unpolished, endearing, knowing quality that sounds refreshingly real. His official website is here.
|Logan Lynn (photo via his Facebook page)|
Song & Video: "We Will Overcome." With this song (to be included on a 2015 album) Lynn departs from his so-called "emotronic" sound, adding fuller instrumentation and bit of country-gospel inflection. In a September interview with Vortex magazine, Lynn (the son of preacher) had to this about the lyrics:
“I wrote ‘We Will Overcome’ as my relationship was ending. I had my heart broken earlier this year, and it felt like these dreams I had for a life and family with this person were just ripped from me. (Dramatic sounding, I know—but it really did feel that way.) I started thinking about how this feeling was something of a pattern in my life and began tracing it back to its beginning, which is my experience in the church as a child. I think the song is about letting go, surviving—living through things that, at times, feel impossible to surmount. Love is a hard thing to lose, and in some ways, you never get over it. I have been grieving that loss, and this song is a mantra for me, both in my personal life and in my experience as someone who is part of a marginalized community. I really do believe that I, that we, will win this battle… whatever it is.”
This fascinating video, directed by Andrew Carreon and superbly edited, features footage of Lynn as a kind of cowboy preacher intercut with grainy old family film footage (provided by relatives) that offers a glimpse of his pentecostal roots.