I usually never remember to write a gay-themed entry for Gay Pride Month till the very last day of June. So I’m writing this entry in May.
In 2008, I found myself paying attention to a lot of gay-identified artist — Matt Alber, Sam Sparro, The Dead Betties, hey willpower. I hoped 2009 would be just as fruitful, but I couldn’t really muster much passion for what I did find. I won’t make any assumptions for 2010, but releases by Rufus Wainwright and Jónsi do make me hopeful.
A few of the titles mentioned here are catalog. As a summer campaign for re-runs on NBC once stated, "It’s new to me."
Billy Dortch, "Goodbye, Goodbye"
Billy Dortch, "Breathe"
Billy Dortch, "Heart Clean"
Here’s the reality of the new music economy — instead of releasing an album, Billy Dortch has been releasing a series of singles. These tracks are far more radio-friendly that what usually shows up on this site, and Dortch has a serviceable enough voice for that kind of thing. He sounds tentative on "Goodbye, Goodbye", but he lets it all out on "Breathe". "Heart Clean" turns the dial back a lot, which makes me conclude he sounds best when he’s giving Nick Lachey a run for his over-earnest money. In other words, more like "Breathe", please.
Darren Hayes, The Tension and the Spark
WE ARE SMUG, WE ARE SMUG
The Tension and the Spark was the first album on which Darren Hayes attempted to distance himself from his Savage Garden past. I don’t remember much about Savage Garden, save for the impression they were pretty milquetoast. This album would never have given me a hint of his involvement.
The Tension and the Spark could be considered a rehearsal for This Delicate Thing We Made, Hayes’ ambitious dance pop double album. They share a similar sound on account of the fact electronica musician Robert Conley worked with Hayes on both albums. The Tension and the Spark, however, has just the slightest twinge of rock to it, and Conley does a fine job making the music service the vocals. It’s usually the other way around in dance music.
The fruitfulness of their collaboration spurred the pair to form a band, WE ARE SMUG, which released its first self-titled album free for a time. (It’s no longer available.) The music takes a turn toward Nine Inch Nails, and Hayes really cops an attitude this time out. His solo work is much more confessional, but with WE ARE SMUG, he takes on a character far more rock ‘n’ roll.
It’s nice to Hayes stretch himself.
Dylan Rice, Electric Grids & Concrete Towers
My hormones still stir a little for Dylan Rice, and I think that reaction made me less than objective about his 2004 debut, Wandering Eyes. Six years later, Rice finally releases a second album, Electric Grids & Concrete Towers. In that time, I became aware of the likes of Sigur Rós’ Jónsi, Office’s Scott Masson and composer Nico Muhly. Rice’s rustic singer-songwriter rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t feel quite as filling by comparison.
Still, it’s refreshing to encounter a guitar-strumming gay guy who doesn’t sound like he wants to be a the creative drag queen equivalent of Joni Mitchell. (Why do so many such guitar-strumming gays automatically gravitate to folk?) And he still has that magnetic croon. The storytelling on Electric Grids & Concrete Towers can get a bit didactic, as the heavy-handed "Homewrecker’s Lament" demonstrates.
Francis Preve, "Caboose"
Francis Preve, "Hasown EP"
I don’t write about club music because I don’t know how to listen to it. I can’t suss out verses and chorus because there are none, and I don’t know the conventions that go into writing in this style.
So it’s probably the fact I took three classes from Francis Preve that has me writing about him, a big-ass no-no in journalism. Fuck it. I dig these tracks. Francis leverages timbre as a musical element, on par with rhythm, melody and harmony. That’s the nature of electronic music, but "Caboose", "Hasown" and "Less Cowbell" would be less of themselves if they didn’t sound they way they do.
Gentleman Reg, Jet Black
Reg’s voice can sound a bit strangled, and the production on Jet Black can come across as too twee, at least for my taste. But there’s something about the songwriting that allows me to overlook these aspects. The easy-going pace, the understated arrangements, the slightly sweet harmonies — Jet Black has its appeal.
At first, I derided Office for having jumped on the ’80s band wagon that, if the videos on NewNowNext are to believed, still has not waned. But after a few listens to A Night at the Ritz, the 80s references could be forgiven because of strong songwriting. Mecca goes much, much further than A Night at the Ritz. The arrangements are far richer, the performances punchier and the writing eclipses its predecessor. If Onitsuka Chihiro hadn’t come along with the album of her career, Mecca would have remained on my year-end favorite list.
Sacha Sacket, Hermitage
I hope Hermitage is a harbinger of what’s to come for Sacha Sacket’s upcoming album. It’s easy to imagine Sacket throwing his cap over the wall on this release — he goes balls out on his performances, and the music ratchets up the drama. The live sound he explored on Lovers and Leaders gets a tremendous upgrade on Hermitage, sounding even more adventurous than his second album, Shadowed.
Stephen Sondheim, Road Show
The last Stephen Sondheim cast recording I really dug was 1987’s Into the Woods. Assassins didn’t really captivate me, and I didn’t understand the controversy around Passions that had audiences arguing during the show.
Road Show is the latest version of a work revised numerous times during its decade-long gestation. Nonesuch even released a cast recording of an early version, when it was titled Bounce. It’s also the first cast recording since Into the Woods I’ve really liked.
Road Show follows the true adventures of Addison and Wilson Mizner, two brothers seeking fortune wherever they can find it in early 20th America, from the Alaskan gold rush to Florida real-estate. Wilson, or Willy, cons and cajoles his way through prize fighting and writing, while Addison establishes himself as an architect of houses for wealthy clients. Addison reluctantly takes Willy in, when his brother shows up destitute, but the tension between the brothers finally erupts after Willy persuades Addison and his lover Hollis to invest in building a city.
Unlike Sondheim’s previous show, 1994’s Passions, there’s some sharp wit in Road Show. "Addison’s Trip" and "That Was the Year" make one brother’s misfortune and another brother’s sliminess somewhat sympathetic. The final scene, where the brothers finally have words, is reminiscent of "We Do Not Belong Together" from Sunday in the Park with George.
I haven’t listened to Bounce to make a comparison, but I like Road Show enough not to be curious.
The Gossip, Music for Men
When The Gossip started out, they were initially compared to the White Stripes. It’s not a comparison that would hold today.
The trio achieved a nice balance between garage rock and dance pop on Standing in the Way of Control, but Music for Men blurs that distinction. The rough edges of the former get polished for the majors on the latter (in this case, Columbia with label president Rick Rubin in the producer’s chair.)
Fans preferring that rougher sound may find Music for Men wanting, but Beth Ditto is still a captivating singer. And she doesn’t slouch on this album either.
The Magnetic Fields, Realism
It felt refreshing to hear the Magnetic Fields venture so far out of its normal gentility on Distortion. Stephin Merritt’s wit took on real bite with the scratching, sawing sound of the album.
Realism is supposed to be the polar reaction to all that fuzz, but really, it’s the usual modus operandi of the Magnetic Fields. It’s probably a lot more acoustic than I, but it’s fairly familiar territory.
Yo Majesty, Futuristically Speaking…Never Be Afraid
I can’t play "Club Action" without getting the chorus and it’s exhortation to "fuck that shit" out of my head. Girl Talk saw fit to sample "Club Action" on Feed the Animals, so that’s enough endorsement for me.
It’s pretty pointless for me to write critically about hip-hop since it’s not a genre I follow regularly. I just know this much about Futurisitcally Speaking:
- It’s not all bling-bling and bottom-heavy mid-tempo beats. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not mainstream.
- The two lesbian Christian rappers have attitude in spades.
- "Fucked Up" really is that.