In my summary of 2008, I mentioned how I managed to find a number of gay musicians I actually liked. Most of the stuff that gets the attention of the gay press focus more on outness than the music itself. I mentioned a few albums without really getting into details, which I shall rectify now.
Ivri Lider, Beketzev A’hid Batnu’ot Shell Haguf (The Steady Body of Movements)
Lider may be one of Israel’s biggest pop stars, but his output has shown a willingness to be diverse. He’s sounds as comfortable surrounded by European dance beats as he does surrounded by rock guitars. Beketzev A’hid Batnu’ot Shell Haguf finds him indulging more of his rock side, and the singles from the album — "Rak Tevakesh" and "Mitorer" — are some of his catchiest. I went on a Lider marathon last year, and only his debut album, Melatef V’meshaker, really stuck with me. This album, however, has some nice staying power. It could be one of his best.
The Dead Betties, This Is My Brain on Drugs
The Dead Betties have been remarkably prolific, releasing two albums in 2007 and This Is My Brain on Drugs in 2008. This Is My Brain on Drugs doesn’t have the major label polish of Nightmare Sequence nor the experimental bent of Fuck You, Avril, You’re in the Army Now. If anything, This Is My Brain on Drugs is much more melodic than those albums, while not sacrificing the scorching performances. "Litterbug" has a playfully taunting chorus, while the sprawling "Money Honey" is hypnotically crunchy. The album is available on the Dead Betties web site, but you’ll need to switch to Internet Explorer — for some reason it doesn’t render in Firefox.
Matt Alber, Hide Nothing
I’m going to write a longer review of this album at some point, but Hide Nothing is one of the most enjoyable albums I encountered in 2008. Alber was a member of classical vocal ensemble Chanticleer, and he’s got the counter-tenor to prove it.His music is atmospheric and dreamy, employing synthesizers and guitars to magnificent effect. He could have rested on his laurels and rode the Rufus Wainwright gravy train — although "Walk With Me" could be mistaken for a Wainwright outtake — but his creative voice is too strong to let that happen.
Sam Sparro, Sam Sparro
Even though "Black and Gold" earned a Grammy nomination for Best Dance Track, I prefer "21st Century Life" more. Sparro has been successful in Europe, but the US has overlooked him so far. I can hear why — Sparro’s self-titled debut isn’t urban enough for a Stateside audience. That suits me just fine. Sparro’s brand of radio pop comes across with sophistication, even when he shows his Prince influences on his sleeve. As mentioned before, the only thing missing from this album is Wendy & Lisa.
Tommy Keene, Crashing the Ether
Keene is about ready to release a new album, but I wanted to check this one out after reading about him. The big drums on Crashing the Ether sound like they came straight out of the early ’90s, and it’s easy to see how Keene is considered a power pop pioneer. He’s got a sharp melodic sense and a beefy band backing him up. Singer-songwriters can be the proverbial dime a dozen, but Keene’s burnished voice and strong rock sound puts him out in front.
Uh-Huh Her, Common Reaction
I know — I don’t listen to enough of the women. Uh-Huh Her is something of a critics’ darling, and it’s easy to see why. The duo knows how to write hooks, and the mix of guitars and synthesizers strike a nice balance between dance beats and hard rock. It also helps that Camila Grey has an appealing voice. Common Reaction is a strong, promising debut.
Wendy & Lisa, White Flags of Winter Chimneys
I’m going to write a longer review of this album as well, but in passing, White Flags of Winter Chimneys is simultaneously the most ambitious and most intimate album Wendy & Lisa have produced. If you’re looking for any hint of their former employ with Prince, you will be disappointed. Wendy & Lisa have always had a strong alternative rock current running through their work, and White Flags of Winter Chimneys takes full ownership of that legacy. It’s a brisk album, recorded during the Hollywood writer’s strike in late 2007 and 2008. The duo work primarily as film and TV composers these days, but this album is a welcome return.
By the way, Wendy & Lisa don’t garner much mention from the gay press. I think I’ve seen only one mention of them in the Adovcate in the past 10 years, and the Guardian makes a parenthetical reference to the pair’s former relationship. Wendy mentions she’s a lesbian mother on Twitter, but they’re not leveraging a gay angle in the media. So I’m probably doing a disservice by lumping their album in this round-up.
At the same time, I consider Wendy & Lisa the higher end of out talent. I’ve run across more than enough self-described gay musicians and thought, "Shit, I can do better than that." And I’m not even a professional.