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17 December 2009, 3:30 pm 16 Comments

The Indie Rock Fag: The 20 Queerest Indie Songs of 2009

This post was submitted by Zack Rosen

RAINBOW MUSIC NOTES

In the year 2009, queer music took its most significant steps forward by, paradoxically, looking backward. You wouldn’t know it from going to the gay clubs, but queers in music have shaken off most misguided vestiges of the Daft Punk/Fischerspooner sequined neon future.  Though the long shadow of bands like Sparks and Kraftwerk can (and should) still be with us, it warms my heart to see queer and queer-influenced artists take a pronounced turn toward the organic.

The Gossip’s Beth Ditto and Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste, for example, have emerged as two of indie music’s most visible gay musicians. Droste traffics in beautiful (if soporific) CSNY psych-folk and Ditto does such thorough justice to the stylings of Page and Plant that her band should consider buying rights to the name Lez Zeppelin. Adam Lambert and Lady Gaga may have their place, but the more “gay music” breaks from its reliance on dance-floor edifice the more I feel that individual gay people can do the same.

The songs below are featured because they are either quality songs by out gay artists, or straight-penned songs that I feel have gay themes worth bringing above the surface. What unites them is they provide a window to the past, queer or otherwise, that is too often missing in coverage of contemporary gay culture. This list is highly subjective and by no means comprehensive, so feel free to leave suggestions and additions in the comment box.

(Btw, I left out Grizzly Bear below because the fact that I don’t like them makes me feel like I’m in a Twilight zone episode where everyone else has changed and I’m still normal, and Tegan and Sara because I’ve sung their praises enough here and it’s not like every other queer blog in the world won’t be covering them.)


20. Music Go Music, “Warm in the Shadows”:

The straight-as-far-as-I-know Abba homage (and Bodies of Water spinoff) band Music Go Music thoroughly encapsulate the year 2009 in this song’s frequent insistence that the “future and past are one.” The 9+ minutes spent lamenting an easily broken heart so perfectly call back to the tenets of disco that even the video could be a an outtake from Solid Gold. As a (perhaps overly) introspective gay man my feelings on disco are mixed, as I feel the era mixed an unbridled celebration of gay sexuality with some of our most damaging and lasting cliches, but it does no good to pretend the 70s didn’t exist. Music Go Music, and their debut album Expressions, have forever earned a place in my heart by bringing those times, intact, to my contemporary ears.

19. Telepathe, “Chrome On It.”

Though this song technically came out in 2008, and exemplifies the robotic cool I just said I was trying to get away from, former girlfriends Melissa Livaudais and Busy Gangnes belong here for two reasons. First, their LP Dancemother was released early this year. Second, they’re queer lady musicians bucking the still prevalent trend of Indigo-esque lesbian folk music. And they rock wayfarer’s with the pros. And I like them. So there. The 80′s is our past too.

18. Junior Boys, “Bits and Pieces.”

They can sing “Girl, the night’s not over” till the cows come home, but you gotta admit that The Junior Boys are kinda gay. Not in the literal sense, as I don’t want to start any rumors, but in the sense that this cut from Begone Dull Care is by far the sexiest song of 2009 and it’s a duet between two guys. Synth-rock has long been a bastion of ambiguity (just ask Dr. Girlfriend) and these two are carrying on a long tradition of straight guys like Depeche Mode and New Order who sell records because you harbor secret fantasies that they might, just might, blow you behind their merch table.

17. Hidden Cameras, “Underage.”

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c1tna32mWhile some artists don’t mention their sexualities at all, and others prefer to wink and nudge, The Hidden Cameras occupy a special place in my trousers for their utter refusal to sugarcoat lyrics about gay sex. A veritable Kama Sutra of buggery, their back catalog contains more ass-fingering and golden-showering than a Ted Haggard spring break. “Underage,” from this year’s awesome Origin:Orphan originally seems like an innocent ode to young love, but contains enough flourishes like “you have the most beautiful young thing I’ve ever seen” to mark it as an unmistakable product of Joel Gibb’s dirty mind. [Incidentally: Joel, if you're reading this I apologize for so creepily complimenting your chest hair at the Rock N Roll Hotel.] It just gives extra credit to this dirty mind that he could wrap the whole thing up in enough Graceland flourish to make the whole thing suitable for a guest appearance on “Sesame Street.”

16. Antony and The Johnsons, “Epilepsy is Dancing.”

There is no around quite like Antony Hegarty. On this year’s The Crying Light, the genderqueer musician continues to use his broken vibrato and orchestral arrangements to beautify to his desolate snapshots of modern queer life. I’m including this one, not his his cover of “Crazy in Love,” because it (perhaps unwittingly) tries to answer a question that might never be settled: are gay men, in all their fabulous, eye-catching plumage, waving or drowning? Or are they two inseparable?

15. Katastrophe, “Till It’s Gone.”

Rocco

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Katastrophe, nee San Francisco transman Rocco Kayiatos, raises in me that age old conundrum of gay life: Do I want to listen to him, be him, or fuck him? Kayiatos funnels his considerable sex appeal not into your typical swaggering MC, but into songs like this one (from the album The Worst Amazing) where he flip flops between a trip hop-esque homage to Tricky and stuttering hook that won’t even make you think of Joni Mitchell until it’s spent enough time bouncing around in your head to set up camp.

14. Chris Garneau, “No More Pirates.”

Another extremely talented queer artist who deserves to someday take over the world, Chris Garneau released his album El Radio this summer. It’s full of ornately orchestrated, lyrically dense songs whose lilting harmonies and piano riffs would make it equally at home in a contemporary, WWII-era parlor. Of all the albums best tracks, like “Dirty Night Clown” and “Fireflies,” this one stands out the most for me as a kiss-off to President Bush and a harbinger of a possible political landscape not ruled by right-wing nuts: “The pirates I refer to are the people who abuse human rights, from politicians to militant fighters and warriors,” Chris has said. Here’s to a 2010 where this song’s sentiment comes true.

13. Pink Mountaintops, “Gayest of Sunbeams.”

The most unlikely song on this list is by Black Mountain spinoff project Pink Mountaintops. The only thing gay about it is the title, but it deserves inclusion here for marrying the old-school definition of gay (that is, happy) with a tune about waking up totally ready to face the day that could totally be found in my parents record collection. The crunchy, ODing-at-a-Dead-show beat and verbal riff just make the whole thing even more joyful, like one of those mythical bearded, outdoorsy Pacific Northwest fags has appeared on your doorstep with a smile and a kiss.

12. Cazwell, “I Seen Beyonce at Burger King.”

I’m not gonna ruin this one by writing too much about it. Just listen, Ok? It slaughters a gay sacred cow, it’s hysterical and if you can’t dance to it you’re probably legless. One more reason I love Cazwell.

11. Stuart Murdoch, “Musician Please Take Heed.”

This song comes from God Help The Girl, Belle and Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch’s attempt to write the soundtrack for a musical that doesn’t exist yet. B&S expertly captured both explicit queer themes and the less overt malaise of a queer youth, and this song apes another convention of gay life: the Busby Berkeley musical number. I have long resented the assumed connection between gay men and Broadway shows, because I like them, but what does that have to do with who I fuck? Like The Wizard of Oz, though, this song captures the moment that a humdrum reality explodes into technicolor with fulfillment. Filter this song through the lens of some closeted queer kid visiting the gayborhood for the first time and you can see why the phrase “Friend of Dorothy” still floats around in the lexicon.

10. Morrissey, “It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore.”

There’s no point in placing Morrissey within our shared gay past, because Morrissey is our shared gay past. However you feel about The Smiths you have to admit that a million little goth kids got themselves through a collective million shitty adolescences by listening to him. If misery loves company, then a Morrissey song is the equivalent of forty sad bastards stepping through your stereo speakers for a poison tea party. This standout track from 2009′s Years of Refusal finds Morrissey at his most biting. As Morrissey tells all his fans in no uncertain terms that he doesn’t hold any allegiances to anyone, the best we can respond is with a standard “the more you ignore us, the closer we get.”

9. Destroyer, “Bay of Pigs.”/ Swan Lake, “Paper Lace.”

This one gets a little complicated, so bear with me. Destroyer frontman (and sometime New Pornographer) Dan Bejar admitted in an interview from earlier this year that “Bay of Pigs,”  his 9 minute experiment with ambient disco, chronicles “an abused Jackie O… a wife and mother at the end of her rope, retracing the end of her life.” “Jackie” also turns up frequently as a character in Bejar’s collaborations with The New Pornographers.  Though later in the interview he tries to claim that Jackie is just a substitute for himself, it’s hard to believe that in light of the earlier claims.

So with that knowledge, and the inclusion of Jackie in the Spencer Krug-penned “Paper Lace” in Bejar’s side project Swan Lake, it starts to appear that Bejar shares that archetypal fascination with beleaguered women that categorizes so much “Classic” gay art. Homos have classically fetishized real and fictional figures like Edie Beal, Marrian Forerester and even Sophia Petrilla who have tried to keep their head through any number of tragic and depressing circumstances. This is yet another example of the gay past that can’t be ignored just because it is no longer applicable. Bejar taps into that past with each dogged ode to the woman who can’t give up. For that, I think he deserves a seat at our table.

8. Girls, “Lust for Life.” (NSFW)

The video that launched a thousand right hands: It’s a nice sign of where we’ve come that one of the year’s most written-about songs, from the album Album, can begin with a man singing “I wish I had a boyfriend” and no one really batted an eye. It took the release of the “Lust For Life’s” dick and titty-laden directors cut to really get some play in the gay press, but even those reviews focused more on the “dick as a microphone” aspects of the video then the song’s overt gay content. Girls’ lead singer is probably straight, though he claims to be un-labelable. I just appreciate the steps he’s taken to further normalize guys with boyfriends.

7. Felix Da Housecat, “We All Wanna Be Prince.”

I didn’t say I wanted all electro to disappear. A song like this, from the album He Was King, is so awesome because it understands two universal truths: 1) Good beat = Good song. 2) Prince = sex incarnate. We all wanna be Prince because we all wanna fuck Prince, so if we were Prince everyone would wanna fuck us. It’s simple math. Scientists in Denmark recently discovered that most children experience their sexual awakenings after watching a Prince video. Some infants have Prince dreams in the womb. Though he’s slowly fallen into homophobic, batshit craziness, the world still remembers a day when Prince and leather and sexuality combined to form a sticky, freebase-able essence of the pangender beast with two backs.

6. Lovers, “Igloos for Ojos.”

This is another one I don’t want to ruin by writing too much about. Lovers, a Portland band lead by a queer woman who prefers to go by the name of Cubby, released their album I Am West in the first weeks of this year. Its’ first track, the reluctant earworm “Igloos for Ojos,” is still on loop through my iTunes in the last weeks of this year. There aren’t a lot of songs from 2009 I can say that about. (And yeah, sorry about the lack of video options.)

5. Peaches w/ Shunda K, “Billionaire.”

A twofer of hot queer girl talent, Peaches’ “Billionaire” (from I Feel Cream) would be on this list even without the inclusion of Yo Majesty’s Shunda K. A lightning fast rapper with a dirty mouth and a past single called “Kryptonite Pussy,” Shunda is a perfect foil for Peaches’ reliably raunchy come-ons. I’ll save you the trouble and say that these two unfortunately don’t take their clothes off at the end of the above video, but if you listen to the audio track there is nothing to stop your imagination from wandering.

4. Jessica 6, “Fun Girl.”

Though her status as the world’s most beautiful woman may initially grab people’s attention, trans Jessica 6 anchor (and former Hercules and Love Affair vocalist) Nomi Ruiz is more notable for her ability to own a stage. She shone through the unenviable task of standing in for Antony Hegarty in last year’s HALA tours, and released this song as a precursor to a spring 2010 full-length. Hurry it up already, Nomi. A lot of people are eager to see what you do next.

3. The Drums, “Let’s Go Surfing.”

For all their 50′s wholesomeness, it’s not hard to read a little homoeroticism into all the beach blanket bingo movies of the 1950s. All those swimsuits, all that water – is it any wonder so many lesbian porns have been made called “Where They Boys Aren’t?” While we never did recover archival footage of Gidget and Annette Funiccello making out, NYC’s reigning kings of summer, The Drums, make it just a little easier to picture. Contained within their Summertime EP gay lead singer Jonathan Pierce creates a world where the sun always shines, boyfriends and girlfriends get kissed no matter how sad the summer is, and one’s greatest care in the world is catching the next big wave. The colder it gets, the more I listen.

2. The Gossip, “Men In Love.”

I can write till the cows come home about how much it sucks that gay men and lesbians don’t hang out together and how I wish it could change. Or I could just pray for more Beth Dittos, and albums like Music for Men, to be gifted on the world. The best queer-lady-band around pens an ode to, you guessed it, men in love.  With each other.  Ditto unleashes her voice with the force of a thousand black light posters, air guitar solos, roach clips and painted vans, and all of a sudden classic rock is no longer a thing of the past and we all have just a little more in common. Hey!

1. Royksopp, This Must Be it

As evinced by their accurate-down-to-the-hand-motions live cover of “Wuthering Heights,” Danish dance duo, Royksopp, understands the power of a well-chosen female vocalist. Elsewhere on their album Junior they maximize, say, Lykke Li’s wounded whisper or Robyn’s pop grandeur, but nothing comes close to reaching the heights of their duet with Fever Ray/The Knife vocalist Karin Dreijer Andersson. Many wannabe divas have been pulled out of the pop music Kleenex box to captivate gay audiences for a month or two before being crumpled and discarded, but Andersson’s dark imagery, reclusive nature and pessimistic dance floor presence elevate her to a title I don’t give out casually: gay icon in the making. While Madonna continues to calcify and Lady Gaga goes over the top, Andersson finally makes me understand how a straight woman’s voice can save a gay man’s life.

This song, a subtle sequel to previous Rokysopp compilation What Else Is There, stands as an analogue to last year’s queer anthem of note, Hercules and Love Affair’s “Blind.” While the latter describes the familiar experience of getting what you want from gay culture and never wanting it again, “This Must Be It” makes a case for taking what is given to you and making it work.


Other honorable mentions include the following queer bands, who are wonderful despite the fact that I was unable to cover them here: Erin McKeown, Bloc Party, Elizabeth Willis, The Cliks, Caruso, Knock ‘Em Alive, Modern Romantics, Pansy Division, Alicia Greenleaf, Hunx and His Punx, and Erik Blood: you are all the best. Expect much coverage in the future.


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16 Comments »

  • raphael said:

    Great list, Zack!

    Here are my thoughts:

    Grizzly Bear is wonderful. I guess they aren’t for everyone, alas.

    Cazwell’s song exploits racial stereotypes. Even the most hugely successful pop star is just a broke black woman with an insatiable appetite for fast food? Please! This song is an embarassment to queers.

    Destroyer: The worst concert I have ever been to was The New Pornos in SF, with Destroyer opening. Mr. Bejar was so drunk he fell asleep between every song. I love every TNP song that features Neko Case as much as I hate the ones that feature him.

  • raphael said:

    I also woulda made room for The Men (http://www.myspace.com/men) or Mika Miko (http://www.myspace.com/mikamiko)

  • Kevin said:

    I love the list – my favorite from it was probably Girls ‘Lust for Life’. I would recommend one as well, Logan Lynn at this YouTube link.

  • Raphael said:

    And I would also add JD Samson’s The Men!

  • rohan said:

    Bay of Pigs is not a gay song. Sure it is “ambient disco” but i don’t find it any way queer. If this was 2009′s most awesome songs, then yeah, but queerest, c’mon.

  • parker said:

    i don’t understand what’s racist about suggesting that beyonce eats at burger king. their fries are delicious and underrated. and they have onion rings. everyone loves burger king, black and white, rich and poor, fabulous and not. let’s all relax.

  • intet said:

    What a fun list! There are even a few artists there that I didn’t know about, like Lovers, The Drums and Katastrophe, so extra thanks for that.

    Here are a few further great queer indie songs of 2009 (or, “omg I can’t believe you missed these why are these not included in your list?!!”):

    Fagget Fairys – Feed The Horse
    Patrick Wolf – Vulture
    Micachu & The Shapes – Curly Teeth
    Hunx & His Punx – Cruising [note: this is the guy from the Girls video]
    Voxtrot – The Dream Lives of Ordinary People
    Terre Thaemlitz/DJ Sprinkles – Ball’r (Madonna-Free Zone)
    The Ballet – Rough Trade
    Pictureplane – Boys In Blush
    Gentleman Reg (with Katie Sketch) – Rewind
    I.U.D. – Girls Just Wanna (Time To Have Sex)
    Xiu Xiu – I Am Hated For Loving
    La Roux – Quicksand
    Jónsi – Boy Lilikoi [note: if it counts as 2009?]
    Jónsi & Alex – Happiness
    Atlas Sound – Shelia

    (Interestingly, this list, if combined with parts of the list above, is very similar to my “best of 2009″-list. Does this mean that I’m just very queer-centric, or that the most interesting culture very often is queer? Probably both, I think).

  • intet said:

    Oh, upon re-reading I see you mentioned Hunx & His Punx already!

  • Raphael said:

    Parker, some people didn’t think it was racist to email around a jpeg of the Whitehouse with watermellons planted in the front lawn. They thought it was just a funny picture. Similarly, Kazwell might think it’s funny to write a song about Beyonce at Burger King.

    In contrast, I think both just perpetuate ugly stereotypes.

  • parker said:

    i don’t get your point, raphael. i don’t see the connection between this white house watermelon jpeg you saw and a song saying beyonce eats at burger king. maybe if the song was about seeing her at KFC or something. but even then i would tell you to relax.

  • Music Gays Can Groove To « The Castle said:

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  • Knock "Em Alive said:

    Interesting list, Zach.

    I wonder what you think are the gayest music videos of 2009. Here is mine for consideration. It also serves as a PSA for the Legalization ofGay Marriage.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfjrNqv-0_0

  • fabricio said:

    the drums , não é uma banda gay !

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