Friday, June 29, 2012

Pride Month 2012: Sarah Walk -- White Noise EP

In case you all missed it, my mini mix was featured on yesterday's Americana Rock Mix podcast! Von, who does the podcast, is a really great guy and has been a mentor for me as I've gotten Adobe and Teardrops off the ground. So check out the podcast and leave him a friendly comment!

Meanwhile, we'll conclude our month-long celebration of Pride with Sarah Walk's brand-spankin'-new EP!

It is available for FREE on her website, though I encourage you to give her a donation if you like it.

Sarah Walk describes her music as "piano rock," but let me tell you something: this is not your Ben Folds Five kind of piano rock. This music is aggressive, raw, and challenging.

And let me tell you something else: as an instrument, I pretty much despise the piano. Organs, yes. Pianos? Can't stand them.

But I love Sarah Walk's music. I happened to see her perform at the Tinderbox Festival and found my jaw dropping just a little bit. Walk, bassist Lenny Brown and drummer Ale Giuliani achieved the abandonment and emotional intensity that every performer worth his or her salt strives for. It's the moment we look for when we watch live music. This time, the trio has achieved an even rarer feat: transmitting that intensity through their recorded music.

"I Don't Mind" has been stuck in my head for the last seven months. I'm glad I finally get to listen to it whenever I want now.

I Don't Mind
Woke Me Up

Sarah Walk -- Official

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pride Month 2012: Corin Tucker Band -- "Groundhog Day"

The good news: Corin Tucker (of Sleater-Kinney fame) released a new single today.

The bad news: You have to go to Pitchfork to download it.

"Groundhog Day" is very much a return to fighting form. As much as I enjoyed 10,000 Years, I missed the swagger characteristic of Sleater-Kinney songs (also, the fact that it was inspired by Twilight kind of killed it for me.)

The song demands to know what's happened to feminism -- after all, Corin was away from the scene for a few years, and now things have gone back to the way they were when the riot grrl movement began. I dunno...maybe it's because one of its spokespeople wrote an album about unrequited love because she loved Twilight so much?

Yeah. I'm not going to let that one go. But the song is fantastic. And Kill My Blues is coming out on September 18. I'm super stoked.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Pride Month 2012: Team Dresch - Personal Best

Pride may have been this past weekend (inexplicably) but June isn't over!

And no discussion of queer music can be complete without everyone's favorite queercore band, Team Dresch.

Pandora's probably one of the best things that happened to me in high school. It introduced me to bands like Uncle Tupelo and Drag the River...and queer music. I'd be glued to it during my free periods in high school. I remember looking around shiftily when Team Dresch's "She's Amazing" came in -- just because I enjoyed listening to music about lesbians didn't make me one...right...?

In spite of all the self-loathing and fear, I wasn't really that angry when I was in the closet, and I haven't had too much reason to be now that I'm out: the LGBTQ community has made demonstrable strides in the past few years, my parents have accepted my girlfriend (as much as any parent can be of someone you bring home), I've got friends, I can be out at my job and not worry about it.

So really, I see this album as part of an inherited past. It's not really me (except for "She's Amazing"), but I haven't found too many modern-day counterparts for Team Dresch -- except maybe (once again) High Dive. But that doesn't make the music less important; Pride Month should be about celebrating who we are as a community, and remembering what a shitstorm of angst being gay used to (and in many places continues to) mean is a huge part of that.

Team Dresch - Official, Spotify

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Pride Month: Dave End -- How to Hold Your Own Hand

Hey, you look like you could use a smile.

Not because you look down, but because we could all use a little more lightheartedness.

I think that's where Dave End is coming from in his endearing acoustic pop.


The first (and only) time I heard Dave, he performed at our college for our GSA's fledgling attempt at hosting a queer music concert. (I tried again the next year -- it crashed and burned miserably.) It seems as if he's virtually disappeared from the Internet since then. 

Wherever he is, I hope he's OK. His songs blend a courageous optimism with wide-eyed innocence and boundless optimism. I never listen to this album without finding something new -- clever wordplay, a new layer to his seemingly simplistic pop. 

The songs are (in my opinion) the truest example of what it's like to be an awkward baby gay on a college campus in the 2000s. They got me through that stage, at least.

He seems to have joined a drag group called Gender Fabulous!, but they seem to be no longer active. If anyone out there has any information about Dave, let me know.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pride Month 2012: Karen and the Sorrows -- Ocean-Born Mary

Who says there's no such thing as queer country?

Every month, Karen and the Sorrows host a monthly party that showcases LGBTQ Americana artists. (Sadly, it's in Brooklyn.) I made it to Branded last month, but by the time I got there the place was PACKED. I recommend getting there early.

Unfortunately, I did not see any of the artists. Fortunately, Karen and the Sorrows just released a new EP.

Ocean-Born Mary is a shining example of quality over quantity. The EP is essentially a four-part suite, the tale of an avenging ghost. All four parts of the tale are tightly constructed. Lyrically, we are invited to watch the development of a hungry woman into a hungry ghost. The best word I can think of when describing these talented musicians is "graceful" -- everything simply fits into place.

This is a truly beautiful little recording. I'm looking forward to catching up on their back catalog and seeing them at a future Gay Ole Opry show.

Karen and the Sorrows --Official, Facebook

Monday, June 18, 2012

Pride Month: Pansy Division

In a word, Pansy Division is an exercise in crassness.

But as one of the first openly out queer punk rock bands, I'd say they earned that right. Coming out (so to speak) in the early '90s, they had to dispel stereotypes about campy gay men.

Their ouvre exclusively deals with the trials and triumphs of what I imagine it was like to be a gay man in the '90s. Unfortunately, few of these experiences are different from what we face today: the fear of AIDs, political repression, cultural anathema (though that's clearly less bleak than it was back then), and romantic foibles.

But the boys at Pansy Division did what most LGBTQ folks do: laugh it off. Whether it's in the blistering bitterness of "Denny," or the 60s pop of "Groovy Underwear," the draw here is Pansy Division's deft wordplay. "A Song of Remembrance For Old Boyfriends" reveals their surprisingly poignant side. 

Groovy Underwear
A Song of Remembrance For Old Boyfriends

Pansy Division -- Official, Facebook, Spotify

Friday, June 15, 2012

Pride Month 2012: Amy Ray -- Lung of Love

I'm just gonna put it out there that it took me a good long while for Amy Ray's latest release to sink in.

Here's the thing: I like the Indigo Girls, but I always prefer Amy's songs to Emily by an almost oceanic margin. But I had a hard time getting into Lung of Love. As I listened to it again in preparation for this review, I realized why. The Indigo Girls are very subtle. Sure, their songs are fairly epic, but that's because there's so much going on that we don't realize: a perfectly executed lick here that complements some clever wordplay here.

Lung of Love is, comparatively, a punch in the face. The melodies in these songs will stay in your head for weeks. (Believe me -- that's why I decided I should give the damn thing yet another listen.) The music itself is spare, forcing us to pay attention to Ray's muscular lyricism.

"The Rock is My Foundation" is my favorite song on the album, though it was a tough race. Ray's knack for mythologizing the American landscape is in full force here: a barnstomper that likens the Holy Trinity to a revival band.

Final verdict: it took me a while but now I can't get it out of my head. There's not a bad song on here. It should find its way into your music collection if it hasn't already.

Amy Ray -- Official, Amazon, Spotify

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pride Month: Town and Country -- "Everyone Wants to Say I Do"

Where would the LGBTQ community be without straight Allies? Critiquing each other's clothing, that's where.

For reals, though, building bridges across communities is important for any political movement. Studies show that people across the US accept marriage equality -- regardless of political affiliation.

So in a genre that seems to be hostile to out male singers, it's refreshing to hear two Allies speak their mind about an important political issue. And it's nice to hear some twang and a silky country bass voice to accompany it.

How cute are those wedding videos? You'd have to be one heartless bastard to deny that happiness to over 10% of the country.

Just saying.

Read an interview with Town and Country here on No Depression.

Town and Country's Official Site

Monday, June 11, 2012

Concert Review: Dar Williams -- Bryn Mawr Gazebo, Bryn Mawr PA

I went to a college full of gentle, self-conscious, socially awkward people. Our "sister" college was Bryn Mawr. This was my first introduction to Dar Williams (no need to watch past 1:48):

I'm somewhere off the left-hand edge of the screen thinking, "What. Is. This?" And yes, they are chanting "Hey, ho, the Patriarchy has got to go!"

So even though it was given in the center of town during the summer, I kind of expected the concert to be a lot like that. I just assumed that every lesbian within a ten-mile radius of Bryn Mawr would be there. Fortunately, the whole thing was much more sedate than I had anticipated.

This was one of the first times I had gone to a concert and wasn't familiar with or especially interested in the artist's music. ("Iowa" is a special song for me and the little lady, but that's my only real entry point into her music.) Needless to say, even though I didn't have a good view (hence no attempt at pictures) I was entranced by Dar's music. Poised, warm, and good-humored, she was a lot of fun to watch. Also, watching her encourage the small children of the town to come forward and dance with her was enough to make me want to give up my plans for a career and stay home and raise a million babies.

The songs from her new album, In The Time of Gods are equally magical. Only in the capable hands of a songwriter like Dar can a concept album about Greek mythology transcend the corny platitudes that others might fall prey to.

Listen to In The Time of Gods

Friday, June 8, 2012

Pride Month 2012: Brandi Carlile -- Bear Creek

Let's not mince words: Bear Creak  is Brandi Carlile's finest effort yet, and I'm not even done listening to it for the first time. It's much more Americana-inflected than The Story, which will never ever be something I complain about.

Here. Let me tell you why I love these songs as I listen to the album.

"Hard Way Home" -- Killer opening track. Sets the tone for the entire album: stories of struggle and redemption.

"Raise Hell" -- Brandi continues to pummel us with her raw determination. I want to stand in a barn and stomp my feet.

"Save Part of Yourself" -- Much more lighthearted. The beat, hooks, and group chanting are almost a little too twee, but we can forgive her this time. Brandi's better than those other indie rock hacks, and we all know it.

"That Wasn't Me" -- This was the first single off the album, and the first piano-based track on the album. I didn't love it, and that's why I didn't pre-order the album. But the entire second verse is worth typing up: "When you're lost, you'll toss/Every penny that you'd ever trust/And you'll hide from your God/Like He ever turns His back on us/And you'll fall all the way to the bottom/And land on your own knife/And you'll learn who you are/Even if it doesn't take your life."

"Keep Your Heart Young" -- Light-hearted and sweet.

"100" -- The first track I'm kind of meh about. The lyrics are smart but I'm just not that into the instrumentation.

"A Promise to Keep" -- A sweet song reminiscing about a former lover. Not looking forward to being able to relate to it, but I know it'll comfort me when that time comes.

"I'll Still Be There" -- It's pretty much about what it sounds like. It's not grabbing me the way the first few songs did.

"What Did I Ever Come Here For" -- Piano-pop song about trying to rekindle a flame. Reminds me of Barenaked Ladies' "Home."

"Heart's Content" -- D'awwwwwwwwwwwwww. Made for a rom-com soundtrack. Not necessarily damning with faint praise here.

"Rise Again" --This is more of a rocker. Some banjo in there but still distinctly Brandi Carlile. I guess I'm on a redemption kick but the album has started to pick up again for me.

"In The Morrow" -- We seem to be closing out with an Americana vibe here. A song about walking out and feeling good about it. Since "Just Kids" seems to be some kind of bonus track, I'd say its theme about finding ways to carry on is a good finish to the album. Just wished it had ended as strong as it began.

"Just Kids" -- Initially inclined to dislike this, but that's just 'cuz it starts slow. It's quite possibly the most epic songs about youth I've heard.      

Brandi Carlile -- Official, Facebook, Spotify

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Pride Month 2012: Sleater-Kinney

No celebration of queer rock is complete -- nay, valid -- without a nod to Sleater-Kinney. As far as I'm concerned, they're the heartbeat of riot grrl.

Part of that is because they're the first riot grrl band I listened to. (The other part of it is -- I'm sorry -- I just don't like Kathleen Hannah's music.) Back in freshman year of high school, I had a really bad short haircut (long story.) I showed up to a meeting for people who wanted to join bands. This one guy -- who often wore a bow in his hair and his big sister's hand-me-downs -- asked if I wanted to join his riot grrl band. I told him I didn't know what that was, and that I wasn't that great at guitar. He told me, "Don't worry. You belong here."

I'm still not sure if he picked me because he knew I was gay. (And if he did, then he knew it waaaaaaay before I did!) Sleater-Kinney's "Buy Her Candy" was probably the first love song I heard that was explicitly written to a woman. Sure, there was "Come to My Window," but that's pretty ambiguous. During those awkward coming out years in high school, I clung to the "she" in that chorus.

Sleater-Kinney also slammed its way into my life as I tried to define for myself what it meant to be a woman. They showed me that I could be as loud and outspoken and obnoxious as I wanted to be. And that's what we want from our music -- the courage and inspiration to be who we need to be.

I'm glad to see the three of them be successful in their post-SK ventures. However, they're sorely missed.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Pride Month 2012 -- High Dive (Redux)

Howdy, readers! In case you haven't noticed, it's June. And June is Pride Month. For our first Pride Month entry I'm re-posting my review of High Dive. Why? The long and the short of it is that even though things are getting better, queer experiences are still distinct from those of non-queer people, and it's really important that we have music to relate to. High Dive is a very relatable band and I want you to buy their tunes.

High Dive is a queer punk band from Bloomington, Indiana.

This shouldn't be an especially shocking sentence in this day and age, and to most of you it probably isn't. But here's a question for you: how many openly queer artists under the age of 40 can you name -- particularly in punk? Beth Ditto? Anyone else? What about male-identified artists?

Unless my ear is pressed to the wrong part of the ground (which is entirely possible) queer punk, like queer activism in general, fizzled away in the face of the Bush administration. Sure, we have successful campaigns for marriage equality and we've overturned DADT (for now) but compared to the injustices LGBTQ Americans face in the civilian world -- rampant employment discrimination and a blind eye to hate crimes -- these movements are merely cosmetic.

Similarly, there have been numerous artists in recent years who have come out but have managed to downplay this aspect of their identities -- Tegan and Sarah, Brandi Carlile, and Lady Gaga come to mind. On the other hand, Chely Wright's outing was controversial -- precisely because her core audience (and record labels) could not see past its own bigotry. Note that there are no men or trans-identified individuals mentioned here. While it's great that most artists no longer need to be ghetto-ized into the queer music scene in order to be out in their work, I take the Rachel Maddow approach to being out: you're really doing more harm than good by remaining closeted. And closeted people are boring (I mean, really. You should have met me in high school.)

So when I asked High Dive if they wanted to be identified as queer, I was pleased -- perhaps selfishly -- by their response: they told me they wanted to be known as a queer punk band because they wanted to write the songs they wished they had heard as teenagers. They pull it off. I wish I had had these songs as a teenager. High Dive is warm, courageous, and current -- a far cry from the isolation and frustrations of '90s queercore and riot grrl, which was all I had to go on in the early aughts.

But there is still anger here -- and that anger is well-placed. As "Tennessee" points out, things really aren't that bad. There's been a lot in the last twenty years that has enabled queer punk discourse to move from hardcore to pop punk. But we are still persecuted and silenced -- in all too many instances to the point of suicide.

This is why I think "Tennessee" is the standalone track off the album. Not only does it encapsulate what the band stands for, it also captures the current mood of the LGBTQ community: sadness, disappointment, and courage -- because the light at the end of the tunnel is well within our reach.

You can download the album for whatever price you choose, but I recommend chipping in five bucks. Let's make queer music for a new generation into a Thing.

Buy High Dive
High Dive Official 

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Successful Failures -- Here I Am

Something happened in the '90s. I guess as a reaction to grunge, slacker-rock bands like the Refreshments made bank. The songs should have been sad -- they were about alcoholism, service economy-induced unemployment, and dysfunctional relationships. But things were going so well in the nineties that if you fucked up it must have been your fault, you know?

Or at least that's what it seems like to me. Really, the most salient thing I remember about the nineties are Power Rangers.

But now that the economy's in the shitter for most everybody and someone could set off a suicide bomb at any minute, it's been really easy for Roger Clyne's sunny defeatism to morph into detached, hipster despair.

Fortunately, The Successful Failures are here to remind us what slackers should sound like.

And it doesn't involve synthesizers or glorifying Brooklyn. This is pure Americana-inflected punk.

The opening track, "How People Start Sentences" is the most clever song I've heard this year. And that ain't nothing, considering how I just gushed about a recent Paul Sanchez album and Roger Clyne is a foundational musician for this blog. Other highlights are "The Rise of China," and "Clifton Mills."

This is great stuff. I hope I can make it to their concert here in the city in a couple of weeks.

The Successful Failures-- Official, Facebook