The Indie Rock Fag: The 15 Queerest Indie Songs of 2010
It’s that time again, folks! When the air is chill, the sky is grey and most blog readers and writers have their minds on things like presents, eggnog and avoiding a groping from the TSA. A time when the year-end list is king and there is nary a post in site that isn’t counting something down from the prior 12 months.
Here, in that tradition, is the second-annual list of my top queerest indie songs released in the preceding year . They tend to fall in three categories: Awesome songs by queer artists, songs by straight artists with overt queer themes or undertones, or the rare intersection: the queer artist with an overtly queer-themed song.
Unlike last year there isn’t an awesome queer album like The Gossip’s “Music for Lovers” to anchor this list, and a couple bands were left off due to strong presence in last year’s countdown. (Sorry, Antony and The Johnsons.) And as usual, a hat tip to the many, many fantastic queer artists that didn’t make it this year:
Kele Okereke, Thao and Mirah, Chris Pureka, Holly Miranda, Vampire Weekend, Of Montreal, Sister Crayon, Kristian Hoffman, Tereu Tereu, Olivia Mancini, Unicorn Kid, Dirty Diamonds, Sugar & Gold, Laura Bell Bundy, Tender Forever, Sea of Bees and so many others: this is for you!
(And, and if you’re wondering why I didn’t put “Alejandro” on here: Great song, wonderful queer artist, but I’m sick of listening to it. Sorry.)
15. Scissor Sisters, “Night Work.”
Their live show might be a little stiff, their gimmick a little cloying, but goddammit does this band churn out some amazing singles. “Night Work, ” the propulsive, falsettoed, insanely-catchy first track off the album of the same name, highlights that familiar feeling of killing time at your daytime job, whatever it may be, until you can cut yourself loose on the weekends. Except this time the feeling is made danceable. The album’s eternal association with Jake Shear’s ass doesn’t hurt either.
14. Goldfrapp, “Rocket”
A performer in the truest sense of the word, Alison Goldfrapp is a queer woman who produced the song that is most irresistible to the pelvic areas of gay men. “Rocket,” the first single from early ’10 dance confection Head First, has an incredible pull over people’s dance bones. It’s a song that makes guys rush the DJ booth to scream “Holy fuck, what is this!!!” It’s the song that causes injuries at gay gyms because guys are powerless to stop themselves from attempting baton twirls with their free weights. It’s the song that could’ve saved American Apparel through sheer popularization of leg warmers and gold spandex. And though Ms. Goldfrapp claims to be a shy person, generally eschewing interviews, the “Olivia Newton Jon by way of 2001: A Space Odyssey” vibe of her live show certainly doesn’t show it.
13. Tune-Yards, “Real Live Flesh.”
Though I don’t believe Tune-Yards’ Merrill Garbus is a lesbian, this song fulfills “queer”in the basest sense of the world. It is bizarre and different. “Real Live Flesh,” and its video, will never fit in and are embracing it. If I really wanted to reach I could point out the slight sapphic vibe of the video – like rejected sorority girls in a slumber party/voodoo deflowering ceremony – but the queerness of this one doesn’t really have to do with sex. It has to do with producing art that is unlike anything else and hooking me hopelessly in the process.
12. Sia, “Clap Hands”
The always-adorable Sia is list-worthy for quite a few reasons. She has never been one to take herself seriously, she is not shy about speaking with the queer press and she is dating the creator of song number 2 on this list (a fact which makes Sia public enemy #1 for many envious fans.) If you watch the above video, and still don’t feel an overwhelming urge to hug Sia, get yourself tested. You are a probably The Grinch.
11. Hot Chip, “Brothers.”
There’s not a whole lot quality entertainment about platonic male love. Whole sub-genres of books and movies exist to document the power and joy that comes from non-sexual women’s relationships, but for men we get (at best) Superbad and (at worst) Black Sheep. It’s pretty hard to shake the association that man-on-man affection inevitably leads to sodomy so, by and large, it’s ignored. Hot Chip make sensitive, intelligent dance music and their live shows are virtually a 50/50 gay/straight mix. Songs like this are why. Everyone can sing and dance along to it, the gay guys in the crowd can rejoice in a straight man admitting love and affection towards other men and everyone else can just trance out to their live show. Hot Chip, next time you come to town I wanna play X Box with you. Just saying.
10. Lovers, “Boxer.”
Combining the best parts of The Blow, The Magnetic Fields and alternative female sexuality, Lovers is a queer trio from Portland who fit solidly into the “queer band making just-an-awesome-song” category. The tempo switch at the chorus, the word play, the subtle electronic elements. I’ve been listening to this song for the better half of this calendar year and don’t intend to stop anytime soon.
9. H.U.N.X, “Can A Man Hear Me.”
I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for Seth Bogart. (Figuratively, though I’ve never gotten a chance to make it literal.) The gay frontman of Hunx and His Punx makes great throwback garage rock and has a big fucking dick, as shown in the video for last year’s number 8 entry, “Lust for Life.” Though people usually make this list for making atypical queer music (however you choose to interpret that) I have a Seth’s-dick-sized soft spot for indie artists that produce a song that could play at any club in America despite it’s man-on-man lyrics. Bogart, in this collaboration with Teengirl Fantasy, has done just that.
8. Xiu Xiu, “Dear God I Hate Myself.”
If his songs didn’t show it, bisexual Xiu Xiu frontman Jamie Stewart told me in an interview earlier this year that he is a miserable person. To make a song this bouncy about that misery, then, is pretty impressive. By the same phenomenon that makes a guy at a club pause his blissful dancing to give you the worlds nastiest stare when you bump into his drink, I think there’s a special kind of gay unhappiness that produces a lot of great art and unpleasant people. Plus I like it. And I think that little glitchy breakdown at the end sounds like the into to “Computer Games.
7. Peter Gordon and the Love of Life Orchestra, “Beginning of The Heartbreak/Don’t Don’t”
Like a Reece’s Peanutbutter Cup with an arsenic center, the disco era began in joy and ended in death. Still wish I could’ve experienced it, though. To have the option of being gay without all the identity politics, the struggles and health risks, and just to party. It sounds awesome to me, though I’m thankful I didn’t live through it. This track from Peter Gordon and the Love of Life Orchestra was originally released in the (I believe, though hard to confirm) late ’70s and then rescued from disco obscurity when James Murphy re-released it this October on his DFA Records label. I don’t usually like songs this long, and this instrumental, but I would have this on loop even without the vocal sax or the breathy “don’t, don’t” refrain in its final moments. If there ever was something pure about disco I think this song has it, though the Arthur Russel co-credit on one of the album’s other songs is a reminder of what came next.
6. Robyn, “Dancing on My Own.”
You know that song that is becomes a gay club classic the second that it’s released? The one that you can’t go anywhere for months and months without hearing? The one that clutters up all your gay friends’ facebook walls and ringtones until you want to move to a Safe-style retreat from the modern world? I hate that song. That is, I usually do. Straight Swede Robyn would’ve had a lock on the world’s queer dance spaces without the “guy/girl” confusion in the chorus. Though she eventually cleared up that she’s saying “Girl” it doesn’t make this song less gay, or less miraculous for the public’s ongoing embrace of its omnipresence.
5. Jenny & Johnny, “Straight Edge of The Blade”
Perennial lesbian crush Jenny Lewis, along with her boyfriend Johnathon Rice, crafted a paeon to my favorite object of fascination and derision: the obviously gay guy that just won’t come out. This song makes it clear that this guy shares love with other straight men, gets crushes on his friends and has been betrayed by a dude. Both the lyrics and the music here are patient and calm, but the message is clear: “Come out and play.” As in, dude, you’re not fooling me and you’re making yourself miserable so why not just have some fun.
Unrelated to this article: listen to Big Wave if you haven’t already. It’s really good.
4. Jonsi, “Go Do.”
In a year when the queer community’s presence in the larger world had to do with our hardships, our suicides and marriage bans and enslavement to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, it’s nice to hear someone remind us we don’t have to be limited. “We can do anything” is a fairly standard sentiment, but when has it ever sounded like this before? Jonsi, queer frontman of Sigur Ros, bundles eclectic experimentation and a flamboyant stage persona around the simplest rallying call since “Gay is Good.” (And sorry I couldn’t embed the official video here, though it is worth watching.)
3. CocoRosie, “Lemonade.”
The “coco” half of CocoRosie, Bianca Casady, says her queer identity has more to do with gender expression than sexual preference. This standout track from Grey Oceans juxtaposes a joyful day out with Bianca’s father and the tragic aftermath of his death. It’s genius comes from switching back and forth between the extremely depressing verses and the uplifting chorus, only to be crashed down again when the cycle repeats. Bianca said in an interview I did with her that their was “no consideration of gender” in her upbringing. I can’t say my sister’s would’ve enjoyed shooting rabbits from a car more than when my dad used to take them to Chicago’s polish bakeries on weekends, but it’s cool to know that open-minded people produce open-minded children.
2. MEN, “Off Our Backs.”
Not a lot to say about this one. Every guy and girl I know wants to sit on JD Sampson‘s mustache, (though Sia gets the privilege), MEN has evolved from a post-Le Tigre DJ project to a full-fledged band and there is A LOT of coed naked flesh in this one. And the guys are hairy and there’s synchronized dancing. I’m really too busy watching it, right now, to say much more on the subject.
1. Arcade Fire, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains.)
Though Arcade Fire is not a band I’d usually put under any sort of queer label, they have a well-developed sense of urban geography. Their first album was anchored by four urban neighborhoods, and their most recent is wholly devoted to it’s titular subject matter, The Suburbs. “Sprawl II,” which is also my favorite non-queer song of the year, is about a feeling that is near-universal in the queer community: The desire to get out of where you’re growing up, no matter where that is, to “find your kind” and get on with your life’s purpose. That journey doesn’t end so well in this song, as the city is no more hospitable here than the the suburbs, but I don’t think song would be so incredible if it ended on a purely happy note.
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