Summer is here! It doesn’t always feel like it in San Francisco, but I was able to get out of town for some nude lesbian river time at the Yuba River over the holiday weekend, and it was glorious. It’s wild sometimes how something so simple – water, sun, nature – can be so healing.
I sometimes feel the same way about music. In this column over the last couple months, I’ve been talking trash (sort of!) about pop music a bit – maybe just because we’re often oversaturated with it in the summer, and especially in June. But with Kim Petras’ new album, which I’ve been listening to over and over, I’m rediscovering how much I love simple, catchy, fun pop music. Dounia, Blood Orange, and Dizzy Fae also give party vibes – maybe a chill house party rather than a dance party, but still.
A bunch of artists I ADORE released new albums this month. Kim Petras, Bebe Machete, Blood Orange, Dizzy Fae and Dounia have all been mentioned in this column previously! And Mal Blum is a personal acquaintance and friend to Autostraddle – but it’s not just bias; their album is REALLY solid. There’s some other solid rock, folk, and R&B in the Honorable Mentions, so make sure you don’t skip that section if that’s what you’re into. Enjoy!
Released June 28, 2019
I didn’t know it was possible for an entire album to be full of 100% certified bangers. This is the best pop album I’ve heard in years, up there with Carly Rae Jepsen’s EMOTION and Robyn’s Body Talk. I know that’s high praise, but seriously — this album is good. Every song is immaculately produced, with perfect swirls of synth, heavy, club-ready percussion, and harmonies that soar to heaven.
It’s also an incredibly sexy album — Do Me, Sweet Spot, and Got My Number are sultry as hell. I believe that trans women singing openly about sex and being desirable is revolutionary! Otherwise, lyrically, it’s pretty standard pop music fare. There are quite a few heartbreak anthems, and the rest seem to boast about Petras’ beauty and wealth — also revolutionary IMO. The one gripe I have about this album, and it’s hardly unique to Petras among pop stars, is the degree to which she — a white German — appropriates so much AAVE.
There’s another controversy, however, that I have to mention, and it honestly breaks my heart — almost the entire album was produced by Dr. Luke, best known for being accused of a number of crimes, including sexual assault, by Kesha. Petras initially invalidated Kesha’s claim, then sort of apologized, but not really. I haven’t landed on how obligated I feel to avoid consuming art by people I don’t respect. I feel like Petras’ positionality as an out trans pop star — there aren’t many of them! — complicates how moralistic I want to get about the choices she makes for her career. If you feel similarly, this is an incredible album. If you skip it because of the Dr. Luke affiliation, I get it!
Released June 29, 2019
Ghazal, which I gushed about here, was just the beginning. Bebé Machete continues to do incredibly creative, unexpected things on this album (and on their past albums as xango/suave, which I only discovered later). They modulate their voice, going up and down in register, to spoken word, switching seamlessly between English and Spanish, to distortion and reverb, and back again, sometimes in the same song. They play with time signatures — you never know if a song will speed up, slow down, stop completely. Their take on salsa, latin jazz, and low-fi pop music is fresh and immediate and challenging and lovely.
And beyond the production and instrumentation, the album is high-key inspiring from beginning to end. In my mind There Is Not A Metaphor That Can Contain is primarily about healing and liberation — moving beyond just a focus on oppression. Machete goes in on the struggle — and glory — of being a non-binary, queer, Puerto Rican person of color in America. “Imperfection is so liberating,” Machete begins the album’s opener, Mx. Machete. And on closer Ta Vivo: “All we got is you, me, one another/ together we will liberate each other.” Between the two, a fecund well of seemingly limitless creativity. This one deserves quite a few listens.
Released July 2019
I mentioned Dizzy Fae’s single Altar here not long ago, calling it my “favorite type of electronic music.” Her full-length doesn’t disappoint. It’s called a “mixtape,” but what does that even mean anymore? This sounds as solid as any major-label album release I’ve heard. She’s only 20 years old, and this is her second full-length. It feels fresh and modern, expertly expanding on pop, R&B, and electronic tropes while doing innovative things with production and instrumentation. It also feels incredibly self-assured – especially for such a young artist.
This album is sexy, fun, smooth, and just feels… liberatory. Every track seems to build toward a really satisfying climax, especially because they seem to go in three directions at once, but still stay coherent. The vibe is definitely downtempo, sultry house party or underground club — this is either for vibing on the couch or dancing REALLY close. Like, it’s not slow dancing, but… you know what?
I guess, honestly, the more I try to describe it, the more I realize it’s sex music! But like, for a fun new hookup, but maybe like the 2nd or 3rd time y’all have slept together, so it’s still really fresh and exciting but you know enough about each other to where you aren’t bumbling around and second-guessing each other the whole time, you know? Or, it’s like, you and your long-term partner are at some outing, and damn, isn’t she looking good? And you’ve been eyeing each other and flirting all night, and you finally get home, and you don’t have to talk about it, you just tear into each other, and goddamn, it hasn’t been like this for a WHILE, lesbian bed death be damned!
Uh, yeah, something like that. Big fan of this mixtape *coughs*.
Released July 12, 2019
I stated that Blood Orange’s album Negro Swan — released just under a year ago, was my favorite album of 2018. I stand by that; it’s an absolutely essential listen. Angel’s Pulse is, according to Dev Hynes (the creative mastermind behind Blood Orange), an “epilogue” to that album, that “tries to end hopefully.” It’s a welcome effort; Negro Swan was brutally beautiful as it explored Blackness, queerness, mental health, and existing within those intersections in Trump’s America.
Hynes has always done fearlessly original things with his arrangements and production, utilizing negative space as deftfully as an EDM producer — and this is no different. While typically a Blood Orange album feels meticulously put together, the primary feeling here is loose and free — it is a “mixtape,” after all. Opener “I Wanna C U” feels like a live-recorded studio session. “Baby Florence” gets a lot done with silence between the very simple bass, synth, percussion, and Hynes’ reverberating vocals. “Berlin” is essentially a simple repeated guitar riff, a two-count backbeat, and a tiny piano twinkle backgrounding the vocals, which include frequent Blood Orange collaborator Ian Isiah’s soaring falsetto (as do a number of tracks here — the diverse collaborations on this album are incredible).
As I listen more, though, I hear more of a spiritual successor to Solange’s When I Get Home than to Negro Swan, especially on tracks like “Birmingham,” a gorgeous rendition of an old poem about the 1963 church bombing featuring Kelsey Lu, and “Take It Back.” And “Gold Teeth” is this album’s “Almeda;” it feels out-of-place on first listen, but then you realize that every song is out of place, even when they sound sonically similar, and Black queer alienation is kind of the point, even if this album’s got a slightly more hopeful approach.
Released July 17, 2019
Dounia’s third full-length album (or, I guess technically, her first? The other two were EPs/mixtapes? Again, I genuinely don’t know how this works) in as many years opens with a mission statement, on Glass Walls: “I used to come to you, I told you I was broken/ You told me it was normal/ that ain’t fuckin’ normal.” How many of us have resigned ourselves to accepting brokenness, frustration, alienation? For Dounia, the response has often been hyperbolic boasting about success, vision, and desirability, a means of manifesting the thriving we’re largely denied in real life.
But it’s not that simple; later on the same track she explores the limits of self-aggrandizement as a liberatory politic: “You think that I’m pretty, damn, you should see my soul/ You should see my past/ You should see the days so low they could have been my last/ But they don’t see that/ They just see the glitz and the glam.” Dounia deftfully skirts the line between vulnerable and bombastic, brandishing two middle fingers to the doubters, haters, and imitators while simultaneously suggesting that, at least to a degree, it’s a front. That shit still hurts.
How is every Dounia album better than the last? She’s still perfecting the sound she’s been working from 2017’s Intro To, an airy, detailed, down-tempo, trap-inspired urban R&B vibe that by this point she’s perfected. Her just-processed-enough multilingual vocals flow effortlessly along the simple-but-intricate beats and mosaic of synths. Why isn’t she more popular? Will this be the year she finally blows up? I sure hope so.
I have the pleasure of knowing Mal personally, as they’re a big part of A-Camp. I had the opportunity to be in this music video, but I think it may have happened when I caught a stomach bug and was bedridden at camp for 24 hours. Sad me; the video for “See Me” is so cute and the album is solid — you can read muuucchhhh more about it here (that’s why this is just an honorable mention)!
Yes! This is some life-giving R&B/Soul that I didn’t know I was waiting for/didn’t know I needed. This album is groovy and funky, but the gospel tinges elevate it to another level. Sweet, smooth, solid.
Like Maggie Rogers before her (but, in my opinion, better) Julia Nunes is doing really creative, modern things with folk pop music. Her incredibly smooth, deep, powerful vocals are backed by exquisitely sparse, but hard-hitting electronic production elements, in a surprising way that gives this EP a modernity, an immediacy, that tracks perfectly with its introspective, biting lyrics. I love this EP and can’t wait for a full-length from Julia Nunes.
This single opens with a Frank Ocean cover, which is a really bold move. Especially an ultra-popular song! But Emily Afton nails it. This 3-track single also features “Back in San Francisco” as well as “Sylvia,” which is a powerful, gorgeous, moving tribute to Sylvia Rivera (with an equally gorgeous video), an unsung hero who deserves all the songs and tributes.
Daya’s come a long way since 2016’s smash single “Sit Still, Look Pretty.” It’s hard for me to believe this is the same artist! Left Me Yet is a solid electro-inspired dance track that’s equal parts cute and heartbreaking: the protagonist’s partner sounds really cute and loving, so why can’t they accept that love? Why do we keep expecting love to fail, do we self-sabotage the good things in our lives? Because we feel we don’t deserve them? Ugh!
I’m SO pumped that Lil Nas X is not a one-hit wonder. To be honest, I’m not sure if he’s really gay or just going for a really long-term troll, but the album goes, and in a fascinating way – it’d be real easy for him to keep doing what made him viral (and, I mean, he has done like 8 Old Town Road remixes), but he goes in 7 different directions on this album, pulling in some Kid Cudi here, some pop-rock there, and some trap and country as expected – but not predictably. I’m excited for Lil Nas X’s future.
We’re almost all trying to heal. But we aren’t taught how! And even if we were, many of us are afraid of healing, because it requires vulnerability, honestly, change, growth, transformation – and as Azul repeats as a hook here, “Healing hurts.” But could anything be more worth it?