Friday, November 22, 2019

Andrew VanNorstrand -- That We Could Find a Way To Be

In my interviews with queer country artists, I ask if they think there's a particular sound to queer country -- or if it's a matter of the artist's identity. Most artists have demurred -- often pointing to the fact that the production value and overall quality of the music is far better than anyone expected. That's not meant to be backhanded -- if you're younger than 30, you grew up in a world with The L Word, Steven Universe, The Legend of Korra, plenty of high-budget, same-sex romantic comedies, and a multitude of out popular and indie artists.

For the rest of us, we were stuck with earnest, low-budget productions in just about every media. Most of the time, that earnestness made up for artistic flaws -- that, and the relative scarcity of other media that represented us.

Thankfully, that's in the past and Andrew VanNorstrand's exquisite That We Could Find a Way To Be has helped me crystallize a sense of what queer country -- as a genre -- really points to. The album may best be described as prog-folk: there's even a reel halfway through. VanNorstrand's compositions are virtuostic and deeply experimental -- literally queering the genre. And that's before you absorb the lyrics.

VanNorstrand's songwriting feels more like poetry with musical backing. In these gentle songs, VanNorstrand explores his awe of upstate New York's natural beauty, weaving his observations into his romantic adventures and foibles. There is a quiet political strain here, too: on the "Deep Blue Green," VanNorstrand relates his experiences at the fateful counter-protest in Charlottesville, VA. On the album's starting track, "What Am I Supposed to Say," VanNorstrand gently questions the trite pro-equality phrase (originated by a straight man): love is love.

We know that politics is inherent to the queer experience, especially in 2019. Of course, love is a universal experience, but one that is especially important to highlight when there are so many powers aligned to erase a particular version of it. What helps That We Could Find a Way To Be feel like a queer country album is that willingness to experiment, using country music and folk tropes while flirting with pop -- but never in a way that would cheapen these songs in an attempt to make them mainstream-friendly. Whether VanNorstrand is singing in a duet, spinning an instrumental track, or on his own, there is a fundamental sense of self in the music, a sense that there is no other path forward than bringing these songs to the world.

Andrew VanNorstrand -- Official, Facebook, CDBaby, Bandcamp

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