It’s Pride month! If that means something special to you, amazing! Personally, I’m not a huge fan.
I live in San Francisco and always try to get out of town for Pride weekend, because the whole spectacle is mostly just overwhelming. Seeing countless rainbows and queer and trans people in billboards and store display windows feels nice on some level, though; like, I think representation in mass media is a net positive, even if it’s inauthentic or whatever. So, sure. Pride!
I’m not trying to ruin the party for those of y’all who really appreciate this kind of visibility or work for these companies and organizations or need a release or have found a way to leverage the optics of Pride to get some kind of personal benefit. I mean, go for it.
But, despite the mainstream narrative of Pride as a party, I’m more interested in Pride as a time for angry resistance! As such, I’ve got a bunch of new queer rock music to share. I’m sure there are plenty of summer dance party gems being released this month, but that’s not going to be my focus here. There’s a bit of diversity below, but definitely if you like punk, rock n’ roll, or Americana, there’s a lot of it here. Enjoy!
Released June 7, 2019
Black Friday is a gorgeous album. Shimmering, reverberating electric guitar leads the way here, backed by simple percussion and minimal ornamentation. The pace is always somewhat languid but simultaneously forceful, and Ellen Kemper’s relaxed, but intense, vocals round everything out. Palehound traffics in a difficult-to-describe slacker aesthetic; the guitar riffs on display here are masterful and evocative, but everything feels so humble, like Kemper’s embarrassed of being so good.
I think the style is best exemplified on my favorite track, “Killer,” which floats along as though it doesn’t care, or even want the listener to know, that its melody is striking and catchy or that its lyrics are so fucking intense and awesome: “I wanna be the one/ who kills the man/ who hurt you, darling,” she croons in a half whisper, like it’s a secret that we know we shouldn’t technically support but can’t help feeling sympathetic to.
Another standout track is Aaron, which is a pretty on-the-nose “I support you, my trans friend” anthem, but it’s so catchy and sweet I can’t help but be a fan.
Released June 14, 2019
Though they’re quite a bit heavier and fuzzier than Palehound, Las Nubes similarly have much more complexity under the hood than it seems at first glance. Catchy electric-guitar based melodies are hidden under a Best Coast-like reverberating wall of sound, and though the lyrics — which alternate between English and Spanish as deftly as the songs themselves change time signatures — melt under the fuzz.
The low-fi blurriness of the songs on this album perfectly mirror the lyrics, which seem to explore heartbreak, uncertainty, and malaise, but with a kind of blasé lack of sentimentality that actually feels empowering, to me at least. “I’m tired of trying to be happier,” goes the hook of Tired of Trying, and, well, maybe happiness will come when we just accept what’s happening and live our lives? This feels like an album for when you’re done stressing about what’s not happening right in your life. Like, cue it up on the Bluetooth speaker at the beach, light up a joint, and give yourself permission to just relax.
Released May 24, 2019
I’m a big fan of The Internet, but before this album came out I hadn’t heard of Steve Lacy. This might be because he’s largely been a producer, primarily for The Internet — though he’s also produced tracks for heavy hitters like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Blood Orange, and Solange. Somehow, nearly all of this production took place on his iPhone! What?
But his guitar work has been his primary gift to the world, as well as his biting, confessional, romantic songwriting. Taking bits and pieces from funk, R&B, and rock n’ roll, and with heavy influence from Prince, the songs on Apollo XXI swim and float and vibe.
And even though Frank Ocean kind of laid the blueprint for queer Black men indie R&B crooners a few years ago, it’s still refreshing to hear Lacy talk openly about his queerness, especially on an album that’s getting really solid reviews. On Like Me: “How many out there just like me?/ How many others not gon’ tell their family?/ How many scared to lose their friends like me?/ I wonder…” And then a very 2019 declaration: “I only feel energy/ I see no gender.” Love it.
Released May 24, 2019
I don’t know if I’ve ever heard such a good album with such an, in my opinion, terrible name. When you hear “Lez Dance,” do you think of passionate, powerful Americana-tinged rock n’ roll? I didn’t. But, as they say, don’t judge a book by its… title, or whatever. Regardless of the name, Loamlands have a future classic on their hands here.
Full of potent, compelling explorations of Southern queer culture, from romantic longing to identity struggle to intergenerational community building, the album feels like the soundtrack to a road trip through the prairies and wide open spaces of the South, evocative of both the feeling of leaving an oppressive, small town for good, and simultaneously of returning home to one’s roots after a disappointing soul-searching excursion to find that all you ever needed was here all along.
The album opens with a searching, melancholy guitar riff, and plenty of negative space. A distorted pedal steel seems to circle around like the metaphorical — and, likely, literal — coyotes circling on the outskirts through the lyrics of the emotional journey on Wild Ones. Many of us have had a friend who seemed too much for the world, had too big of a personality, who wanted more than what the world has to offer. “Maybe the wild ones never rest,” the song goes; maybe even though they’ve passed on, perhaps at their own hand, to the next dimension or world or whatever, but don’t despair: they’ll continue being wild in the great beyond.
Chong the Nomad, Two Colors / Nothing Else Singles
I’m a sucker for creative electronic music that embraces the fact that, free from the constraints of real-world instrumentation, anything is possible. Chong the Nomad is doing really interesting things on these two tracks. I can’t wait for a full-length.
Lava La Rue, MOSCHINO IN 83 Single
There are a lot of indie R&B singer-rappers on the scene right now. But Lava La Rue is one of the best. Her throwback beats and relaxed flow remind me of a modern Digable Planets — less jazzy, but just as chill.
Kailey Prior, We’re OK EP
Kailey Prior makes biting, incisive, direct folk music about struggle, imperfection, and resilience. Her voice is piercing at times, reminding me of a folk Regina Spektor.
Sick Day, Deviant / Brain In A Jar Singles
Some more direct, simple rock music, but with some string flourishes and fun riffs. Deviant is for those of us who’ve long felt like outsiders: “I don’t really know the status of my soul/ All I can surmise is that I am despised/ I’m a deviant.”
Lauren Sanderson, Hasta La Vista EP
I haven’t been following Lauren Sanderson closely, but the story is written in capital letters all over this EP — Sanderson’s a rapper with a positive, empowering message, and despite how excited she was to get a major label contract, she’s happier now that she’s independent again and can do what she really wants without the label holding her back.