We like to think of Queerty as one big dysfunctional family, and we’re looking to add a new member to our brood. With nepotism and insider-dealings passe in our scary, newly impoverished world, we decided that instead of choosing a music reviewer, we’d let you, the readers, decide. So when you ask yourselves, “Who put this guy in charge?” the answer will be, “You did.”
After culling through almost 200 applications, we narrowed down your would-be musical tastemakers to 10 lucky finalists. To be honest, we’re glad you’re the ones deciding—this is one talented group. This week, we’re rolling them out for you – along with a sample review of one of their favorite albums – the top five will go on to the final round. Vote for your favorites Idol-style (that means as often as you like) at the bottom of this post, until, like a gay, musical version of Highlander, only one remains.
Let’s meet the contestants.
I am an ideal fit for this position because I would add to the intelligence, creativity and cleverness of the blog. Aside from reading, I spend a great deal of time writing. I pay careful attention to infusing my voice, and the diverse experiences I have had, into my written work. Additionally, I possess a musical pallet that speaks to the diversity I embrace. In a world of so many divisions, I believe music truly transcends difference. In my own collection, I have something for everyone—from J Pop to Trip Hop, Vogue to Pop.
Sam Sparro–Sam Sparro
It seems as though everybody and their fairy gay-father cites Prince as a musical influence. While 1999 may have sparked magic for some, few artists actually pay true homage to the artist formerly known as. Sam Sparro is the truth. His debut album, by the same name, takes the listener on a journey to a world live in living color. I won’t even go into how much of a cutie the Australian-born, Los Angeles-raised, singer/songwriter is. The boy’s got talent! And he’s got the Grammy nomination to prove it.
His debut album is just as poignant, as it is danceable. At the end of shaking your tail-feather to most of the 14 songs, it is Sparro’s message that most resonates. After spelling it out who Sam Sparro is, on the first track, Sparro goes to work. “Two many questions” is a cool and easy tune that seeks to encourage the listener to reflect on self-purpose and action. How do I matter in the grander scheme of things? Next, is Sparro’s hit, “Black and Gold.” While the divine inspiration may be touchy for some, how encouraging is it for an openly gay man to embrace his spirituality? In this song, Sparro sings, “If vision is the only validation, then most of my life isn’t real.” Certainly, this goes beyond church. Think: love.
Other great selections include, “Sick,” Hot Mess,” Cut Me Loose” and “Sally.” In these gems, the listener can really see how Prince influenced Sparro’s music, but also how music genre’s like R&B, Soul and gospel add to his creative delivery.
Sam Sparro serves up something fierce—up-tempo beats, soulful vocals, even jazz scats on the hidden track. Get into him. If this is what he offers on the first try, sky’s the limit for the next go ’round.
I would be the best music reviewer for Queerty because I’m in a queer electro-rap group, I have an English degree, and I cry a little inside every time a gay bar plays The Pussycat Dolls or Katy Perry instead of Hercules and Love Affair or Von Iva. I’m constantly on the lookout for new gay and queer-oriented music, while continuing to discover the wealth of underappreciated gay artists from the past. There’s nothing I enjoy more than raving about new queer music while picking apart the overly-manufactured crap that gets more airtime in the gay community than it deserves.
Von Iva — Our Own Island
Sexy, loud, and all about love. If one had to sum up San Francisco trio Von Iva, that would just about do it. While their mission of inducing dancing and lovemaking hasn’t changed from their debut, their sound has become even more raw, stripped down, and soulful on 2007’s Our Own Island.
“Guise,” the first track on the album, demonstrates how the amps-set-to-11 rock of their debut has been toned down to allow each element of the band to truly shine. Lead singer, Jillian Iva, struts through the song, declaring that she’s “seen a lot of guys trying to fake a front.” If there’s ever a band that can speak out against artificiality, it’s Von Iva. With just drums, keyboards and one big voice, there’s not a lot they can hide behind. No guitars for these ladies. They manage to rock harder than the boys without having to resort to a single powerchord or overblown shredding solo.
They make the most of their unique setup on the tracks “Lala” and “Where U At?!?” in which keyboardist, Bex, makes her keyboards roar like some sort of monolithic dinosaur-sized organ from hell and drummer, Lay Lay, sounds like she’s pounding away on the most kick-ass set of trash cans heard since Kraftwerk’s “Metal on Metal.” It could be theorized that the amazing interplay between these two instruments has at least something to do with fact that Bex and Lay Lay have been dating throughout the existence of the band.
The band does sounds like they’re in unfamiliar territory when they slow things down to a near-ballad on “All of Her Life She Has Wanted to Fly,” but the energy of the rest of the disc certainly compensates. Von Iva truly rocks.
I am a writer by trade, with a day job as an editor, freelance music writing gigs on the side, and various fumblings with blogs (i.e. I can meet deadlines). I believe there is a tragic dearth of coverage of the amazing range of queer indie artists — especially from a queer perspective — aside from an occasional profile in The Advocate, or a fleeting mention of gayness on Pitchfork. Beyond album reviews, I’d love to interview queer artists, and add concert reviews with a Cobra Snake-esque (although less fashionista-obsessed) “hot guys at shows” photos section.
Cat Stevens–Harold and Maude Soundtrack
Prior to recently, a soundtrack to Hal Ashby’s cult classic 1971 film Harold and Maude had never been released. This writer wasn’t even aware that journalist and filmmaker Cameron Crowe’s Vinyl Films record label had just issued a vinyl-only, limited-edition-of-2,500-and-already-sold-out version before gleefully unwrapping a copy his boyfriend bought him for his birthday.
All of the shiny-happy Cat Stevens songs featured in the film had been released before, but this completist Crowe curation includes gems like the precious piano and banjo takes on “If You Want to Sing Out” from the film; a 7-inch with unreleased demos; the film’s Japanese poster; and a booklet of fascinating interviews with Stevens and the film’s cast and crew, conducted by Crowe.
The two tracks that Stevens — who was, at the time, on the cusp of megastardom — composed specifically for the film, “If You Want to Sing Out” and “Don’t Be Shy,” dovetail beautifully with the philosophical bent of the film. Their simple, earnest truths can also be viewed, like the film, through a queer lens. ["If you want to (come) out, (come) out"; "Don't wear fear, or nobody will know you're there/ Just lift your head, and let your feelings out instead"].
Is Harold a latent homosexual? Clues: the brilliantly campy relationship between Harold and his mother; Harold’s multiple suicide attempts that relieve him from mother-approved blind dates; his dapper fashion sense; and his pursuit of a taboo, Forbidden Love relationship — albeit with a septuagenarian, dope-smoking loony-woman.
Ruth Gordon (Maude), treasure that she was, could well have been merely a surrogate for the true taboo that screenwriter Colin Higgins, who was gay and died of AIDS in ’88, was driving at. Hearing these beloved Cat Stevens tracks again, “secret meanings” in mind, has, at least, much improved their previous associations as the cheesy soundtrack to too many let’s-get-in-touch-with-God Catholic high school retreats.
Currently I work as a music director at a college radio station, where I live and breathe music. Each week I listen to 25-50 new albums. I enjoy being aware of the newest trends in music and am very aware of what is up and coming. I am interested in music of all genres. I enjoy finding new music as well as emerging queer artists (it’s awesome when you can fully connect with music). It’s hard to weed through music featured in blogs in order to find something worthwhile but I want to help people find the best new music.
Late of the Pier–Fantasy Black Channel
Late of the Pier an English four-piece band have finally released their debut album Fantasy Black Channel in America. Originally released in England in August of 2008, LotP appear ready to make a breakthrough here.
Listening to the opening lines of “Space & the Woods” listeners may have to check to make sure they didn’t accidentally put in a Gary Numan track from the 80’s (You know, that song about cars) . LotP have to be growing tired of the Numan comparisons by now but it’s not in a bad way necessarily either. LotP’s sound ranges from straightforward 80’s inspired synth-rock to fusions of different genres such as the opening riff of “Focker” that sounds like a hair metal riff redone by a keyboardist and the breakdown on “The Bears are Coming” that sounds like a mix between the soundtrack music found on Pee Wee’s Playhouse and a robot having an orgasm.
Each song on the album is filled with energy, odd when compared to some of the lyrics such as the opening lyrics of “Space & the Woods”: “Suicide is in my blood/ It always was.” Examining the lyrics one might say that LotP is a goth-dance band, and it would be a fairly accurate statement, but instead of crying in a corner these guys know how to make someone dance. The lyrics are simple yet will stick in your head after a listen. “Heartbeat” and “Bathroom Gurgle” offer simple choruses that you may find yourself singing out lout to.
Overall, Fantasy Black Channel is a solid debut album. Some of the lyrics may seem a bit juvenile and the splash of glam that the band incorporates may not be for everyone, but they do know how to make people dance and rock out at the same time.
Since 2005, I have worked as a freelance writer focusing on LGBTQ issues, sex positive culture, politics and the media. My writing experience aside, I have a general love of music. I purchase several albums a month and enjoy discovering up-and-coming artists. Recently, I have been following the Australian and UK indie-dance scenes, but my tastes range from mainstream pop to soulful R&B – making for an interesting and diverse music column.
Lykke Li–Youth Novels
Although this Swedish songbird’s debut album has been climbing the charts in Europe since early-2008, it is on the eve of her first North American tour that Lykke Li (pronounced “Lick Lee”) is finally garnering some attention stateside. However, while her Swedish predecessors (such as Robyn) have cornered the dance-pop market, Lykke Li seems more comfortable following in the footsteps of her more experimental Scandinavian neighbor, Björk.
People who purchased Youth Novels hoping for fourteen “I’m Good, I’m Gone” (Li’s impressive debut single, accompanied by one of the most unique music videos in recent memory) clones might be severely disappointed. Youth Novels is not a dance album; and starting off with “Melodies & Desires,” one quickly discovers that the album is much more personal and introspective than “I’m Good, I’m Gone” lets on. That is not to say, however, that Youth Novels is without energy. Li oscillates between soulful confessionals, such as “Little Bit” and “Everybody But Me,” and more electronic entries, including the masterpiece, “Breaking It Up.” But even the poppier songs on the album maintain Li’s personal exploration, using dance rhythms to underscore often self-deprecating lyrics.
Being her first album, Youth Novels is not without its missteps. The incredibly short bridge, “This Trumpet In My Head” adds nothing to the album’s depth; while “Complaint Department” sounds interesting musically, but runs a little bit too long without traditional song structures holding it together. But as she is only 22-years-old, Lykke Li offers listeners a promising debut, setting herself up for what will hopefully be a long and illustrious career.
Not every gay person listens exclusively to Cher and Madonna, and a site like Queerty should do what it can to foster new and emerging gay/gay friendly artists, be they indie, pop-rock, r&b, rap, or dance. I’m the guy for the job because I’ve been an avid pop (meaning non-art) music fan since grade school, because I have a lot to say about it, and because it would give me an outlet for those opinions besides my boyfriend. I live in New York City, love going to shows, and have basically no limits when it comes to what I’ll listen to.
Matt Alber–Hide Nothing
The gay community is pulling for Matt Alber’s new album, Hide Nothing, not least because of its back story: reportedly a labor of love, it was recorded in Alber’s bedroom, an indie artist using his limited resources to create something lush and beautiful. The video that accompanies the album’s lead single, “End of the World,” was shot in Alber’s barber shop and caps off with a gay kiss, the camera close-up on the mens’ embrace. Introducing himself to the masses with this video, Alber lays claim to a spot on the music landscape and supporting him feels almost like a political statement.
When the record soars, as it does on End of the World,” Alber comes across as heartfelt, succinct, like nothing so much as Rufus Wainwright if Rufus ever betrayed an earnest emotion. “End of the World” is a perfect pop song, drawing parallels between the uphill climb of a roller coaster to the “edge of a dying romance,” asking “But if there’s nothing left can you tell me why/That it is you’re holding onto me/Like it’s the end of the world?” The strings swell, and Alber’s voice cracks open with emotion. However, “End of the World” proves to be the exception to the rule. With its vague nods to electronica and polite, plodding beats, the rest of “Hide Nothing” owes more to Imogen Heap than Rufus Wainwright. Taken as a whole, “Hide Nothing” becomes a sprawling thing, Alber’s melodies not catchy enough to be memorable, the songs often devolving into electronic, synthesized-piano soundscapes. Drum loops lock into a groove and stay there, providing an anonymous palette for Alber’s capable if seemingly bored vocals.
There is, of course, a place for music like this: a soundtrack for a dinner party; background music at a lounge. If what you’re looking for is more of the lead single, though, you’re better off sticking with the mp3.
Joe John Sanchez III
I worked in gay media for 2-3 years, including a gig with a prominent gay social-networking site, I have a firm grasp of what my fellow gays are listening to. And with modesty aside, my eclectic tastes and already-existent press connections put me in a position to be a tastemaker. From personal connections to lesbian rappers (Shunda K of Yo! Majesty totally loves me) to up-and-coming crunchy guys with guitars, I’d love to explore upcoming queer artists while continuing to evaluate mainstream pop, indie, electro, hip-hop and other genres.
A Camp’s sophomore release Colonia opens innocently enough with a toy piano, but even the lush, theatrical arrangement of “The Crowning” can’t mask the song’s underlying theme of a beheading. When the musical accompaniment isn’t complimentary to the dismal lyrics, deceptively upbeat grooves may mislead the listener into optimistic territory. Nina Persson of The Cardigans isn’t “pulling a Mary J” and embracing happiness on this side-project, she’s doing what she does best—subtle, melancholic beauty (that’s depressing as fuck).
This motif proves solid on the album’s lead single “Stronger Than Jesus”. The prevalence of the rousing chorus, which states that love conquers dear ol’ Mr. Christ, could potentially cause some to misinterpret this as an anthem for the post-Proposition 8 generation. This erroneous designation could be understood in a world where Springsteen’s “Born In The USA” was viewed as patriotic, but put the tune on repeat and you’ll unmask Persson’s cynicism as she bemoans our tireless quest for companionship, stating that love is “the hammer that will break” us. No hope present– this is the ultimate anti-love song.
The ubiquity of alt-country and 1960s influences creates an air of familiarity, but subsequent listens will unlock Colonia‘s original quirks and intricacies. With hand claps and an epic refrain, “Here Are Many Wild Animals” initially evokes Phil Spector, heads towards power-pop New Pornographers’ territory, returns to Spector and concludes with Perrson whispering about bastards and millionaires. These transitions appear effortless, demonstrating the many surprises A Camp has to offer. Of course, they’re an exception, not a rule, as the majority of the group’s offerings echo pure pop structure, with the sway-worthy “My America” leading the pack. With this album down, it’s clear why Perrson was Swedish pop’s leading blonde babe before the days of Robyn, Karin Dreijer Andersson and Lykke Li.
Coco Chanel, once said, “I don’t do fashion…I am fashion.” Well, much like the late, great fashion icon before me, I don’t do music…I am music. Actually, there’s nothing even slightly accurate about that statement. But what I can tell you is that I do know my music. I’m a walking, talking encyclopedia of release dates, chart numbers, and little known tidbits ready to be abused by the masses.
Somewhere between the chilly electro stings of “Break the Ice” and the slap-happy bass of “Get Naked,” Blackout suddenly ran cold. The chirpy, cheerful chanteuse that I knew and loved now somehow found herself wedged into the confines of a frigid vocoder, battling her own demons at the time. It was a cold, dark album, devoid of soul and spirit.
Don’t get me wrong, the music was there–In fact, Blackout remains Britney’s sonic peak. However, Britney Spears was not featured on that record. She was credited, she was singing, but there was nothing familiar to be found.
One year later, with a refreshed image and sense of hope, Circus offers the fans a proper comedown from the tumultuous experience over the past four years: A bouncy, bubbly romp between killer choruses and delicate verses. With a mixture of In The Zone’s exploratory pop and Britney’s unapologetic camp, Circus is what I had assumed Blackout to be in the first place: From the pervish, wacky space vibes of “Mmm Papi,” to dancefloor commanders like “Circus,” to the sass-n-boots, glittering ’80’s glitch of “Leather & Lace, Circus offers a taste of everything.
Oddly, the greatest gift of Circus is that the album remains wonderfully flawed. Unlike the processed-to-perfection robotic acrobatics of Blackout, the missteps pour out from the Circus sessions: The songs are hardly as instant (“Blur’), incomplete (“Shattered Glass”), and even off-putting (“My Baby”). Yet in this way, the experience feels legitimate, allowing a listener to find beauty within the flaws.
Circus is Britney’s return to grace, both in form and functionality. Not only because it demonstrates the confidence of the yesteryear Britney in stunning stompers, but because of the album’s promise for musical evolution.
Perhaps the definitive album of the year, Circus delivers pure, unapologetic pop unto its innermost parts.
Thank God my brother chucked my Karate Kid 2 soundtrack for Peter Shelley. Nowadays I hit up local concerts when traveling, mainline Pandora and Pitchfork like black tar heroine, and pirate new songs* like they’re doubloons. My tastes range from Bob Mould and Pansy Division to Tori Fixx and Arthur Russell. I’m also a Columbia creative writing MFA (with a journalism background) who knows a band’s story, personality, influences, and style can matter just as much as their sound.
*Just kidding—because that’s illegal.
Cansei de Ser Sexy–Donkey
There’s something you gotta love about a Brazilian electroclash band that beats the crap out of each other in prom dresses at a birthday party. In their video for “Alala,” Cansei de Ser Sexy put bloody, burn-scarred faces on the sextet that cobbles deliciously dark dance our of pop-culture trash. In one of the songs off their self-titled debut, the catsuit-clad front woman, Lovefoxxx, called Paris Hilton a bitch about 20 times. In another, she implored listeners to “lick her art tit.” Throw in the fact that they started CSS as a joke, that four of the band members are gay, and that almost nothing from South America ever gets any U.S. airplay, and their international success seems even more extraordinary. Their first album bristled with a vaguely pro-feminist agenda, suspicious of seriousness and studio perfection. In comparison, their second album, Donkey, has scrubbed away their grime—it’d work as background music for a hair salon, but not a birthday brawl.
They began writing and recording the album in tour buses and hotel rooms after losing their bassist and firing their shystie manager. But for all the 4am crying fits, lost luggage set on fire, and going “Raggae All Night,” the songs never lose control or have as much fun as they should. “Give Up” sounds like a mediocre Gwen Stefani track: “This time I won’t make any mistakes/ Will you forget who I am?/ Everything changes in a day/ My heart reminds it’s you I crave.” Add some 8-bit Mega Man loops and you’ve got serious but unaffecting lyrics backed by dancey but repetitive beats. Their gritty indie-electric edge briefly reappears with coasting guitars and crashing drums in “Move,” “Beautiful Song,” and “I Fly.” But mostly, one hears CSS conforming to the pop machine rather than defacing it.
I’m not a stereotypical gay guy, and probably not a stereotypical Queerty reader. For starters, I’m bi. I’m a pretty obsessive sports fan, and even have a favorite NASCAR driver. But, other than staring at attractive twinks, the gayest things I do pretty much revolve around music. Whether it’s obsessing over cute (often straight) artists, or knowing more words to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” than any girls I know, music and other artistic mediums are my biggest connection to the gay community. I’ve written music reviews for my school’s newspaper, but would really prefer the less formal blog-style.
The Killers– Day & Age
Let’s get a few things out of the way: Yes, Brandon Flowers is a Mormon. No, Brandon Flowers does not support banning gay marriage. Yes, Brandon Flowers is absolutely adorable. Flowers grew up with gay musical heroes, such as the Pet Shop Boys, Morrissey, Erasure, and Elton John, and The Killers even got their start playing in Transgender night clubs in Las Vegas. Flowers grew up in a town designed for Glam Rock, and The Killers certainly bring the glam on their new album, Day & Age. Many have called this album a return to their roots, but, this album is nothing like what the Killers have done before. Which allows them to make their biggest album yet.
The album opens with “Losing Touch”, which has catchy lyrics, excellent guitar work, and, most importantly, lots of beautiful sax. The album moves right into “Human”, which is the best dance song the band’s ever written. The Stuart Price production really comes through, and the song is dripping with pop goodness. The standout track, however, on the first half of the album is “A Dustland Fairytale”, a lyrically and musically beautiful piano ballad alleged to be the story of Flowers’ parents.
The second half begins with the doing things its never attempted before; “This is Your Life” is flanked by African chants, and “I Can’t Stay” is a semi-acoustic track where the highlight is really the sax. The band brings the glam on “Neon Tiger”, a ballad straight from Vegas, and finishes up the album with the dancy “The World We Live In” and the eight-minute mini-epic “Goodnight, Travel Well”, which fittingly ends the album on a downbeat note.
The Killers have a chance to become one of the biggest bands ever. Three albums into their career, they’re playing sold out stadiums and headlining festivals. While the band still has a long way to go, if they continue to bring fresh sounds to their music as they have on Day & Age, they’ll sit in the same echelon as some of the gay artists Flowers grew up listening to.
Now, get voting! Polls are open until Monday, Feb. 16th at 12:00AM.