We’re almost there, but aren’t at summer yet! Unfortunately (for some), there aren’t really any early summer jams here this month (I’m sure we’ll have a ton in June, though). Carly Rae Jepsen’s new album just came out, and it’s excellent, so if you need some dance pop to get you through to actual summer, check that out? I also heard Madonna has new music coming soon. I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re looking for summer bangers, either come back next month or maybe listen to some straight white women pop stars? I don’t really know what to tell you. You could also just keep listening to Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You on repeat like I have been.
I feel like we have some deeper, more interesting, more contemplative stuff here at Queer Your Ears this month! There was a period of my life where I listened to Jamila Woods’ song Holy every single day when I woke up (“Woke up this morning with my mind/ set on loving me,” it goes), and I couldn’t be more excited that her second album is finally here, and blasts past my expectations.
Every other artist featured this month is mostly new to me! One of the things I didn’t expect when I started this column was how many new artists I was going to discover (I have no idea why I didn’t anticipate this). I got a lot of incredible suggestions this month, please keep them coming (e-mail me at abeni at autostraddle dot com, not any other e-mail address you might see floating around somewhere, if you have a music recommendation)!
Released May 10, 2019
Jamila Woods, who is a poet and youth mentor from Chicago as well as a singer-songwriter, has been mentioned here before. This album falls right in line with the powerful, incisive womanist lyrical content and indie r&b + neo-soul + hip hop vibes present on 2017’s HEAVN, but expands it in every direction; sometimes emotionally – much of the album is about navigating love, fear, and anger in a sexist, homo/transphobic, anti-Black culture – and sometimes beyond time and space.
Every song is named after a cultural hero(ine), from writers James Baldwin and Zora Neale Hurston to poets Nikki Giovanni and Sonia Sanchez, as well as musicians like Miles Davis and Muddy Waters. Some of the named references are still alive, some of them are long past. And two of them in particular, Sun Ra and Octavia Butler, explicitly placed themselves in the future; Butler through her sci-fi and Sun Ra through… everything.
This album is as much about the impact of our ancestors on the present as it is envisioning a future in which we can be genuinely free. It’s gorgeously produced, Woods has an uncommon grit in her voice that lends it gravitas as she floats through these songs, and, of course, the beats go. But part of the reason Woods is one of my favorite artists is because there is SO much depth here. Get this album, read this little breakdown of each track, spend a few weeks digging into each of the influences, then come back and have your mind blown a second time. Also do yourself a favor and watch this.
Released April 26, 2019
If you wanna chill to upbeat, smooth, progressive/experimental dancey vibe music, then Amo Amo is exactly what you’re looking for. This is another one of those albums that primarily works best as background music – it’s full of effortless, relaxing jams that also keep the mood positive and light – but also rewards close listening. The guitar and bass work, especially, are simple but divine on this album. Guitar leads (solos?) on tracks like “The Only Thing I’ve Got To Life For Is Love” are transcendental.
The lyrics also aren’t super complex, but I feel like that’s because if you think too hard about what’s going on lyrically in these songs, you might miss the groove, which is what this album really has going for it. The vibe here instead relies on simple phrases and repetition, utilizing all five members of the band to form a choir to dig into hooks. Though Love Femme’s vocals guide the album, a variety of voices get their turn in the spotlight, which keeps the album feeling fresh; they don’t stray too far from their standard less-is-more, but let’s get weird within that box, structure here. Check out the ending of closing track Echoes Just Begun, for example, which keeps its simple melody going even as it explodes in every direction at once.
Released April 26, 2019
SOAK’s Grim Town opens with a skit: “Welcome aboard,” intones a train announcer. “Please note this train is for the following categories of passenger only: recipients of universal credit or minimum wage, the lonely, the disenfranchised, the disillusioned, the lost, the grieving.” It’s clear that, although Bridie Monds-Watson’s debut album, 2015’s Before We Forgot How To Dream, won numerous awards and hailed her as a precocious new artist-to-be-watched, she doesn’t necessarily feel any more accepted or understood. This album is for the outcasts, those on the struggle bus, people not entirely sure they fit into the world at large.
It toes a lot of fine lines, beyond being an anticipated follow-up from a rising star who doesn’t seem to be embracing her newfound fame. It’s very folk-heavy but pop-minded. It’s about growing up and moving on and out, but is also firmly situated in Bridie Monds-Watson’s youth growing up in Derry, Ireland. Lead single Knock Me Off My Feet begins with these lines: “I’ve always done the best I can / To get out of my neighborhood / Growing up I spilled my blood / But you’re still my home / You stay within my bones.” This duality is present throughout the album.
“Everybody Loves You” is another standout, opening with Monds-Watson’s ethereal voice backed by an ethereal soundscape. On the surface it seems to be about coming to grips with being “different,” and then realizing that difference isn’t necessarily valuable in and of itself, and finally allowing yourself to be “normal,” in a sense. For some reason, though, I read this track as a meditation on self-worth, and self-love. “Everybody loves you/ Not me, no way/ I don’t work that way,” it goes, but what if “you” is… me? Sometimes I feel like everyone loves me, sees me as I am, validates me… except myself. To me, this is about silencing the inner critic and allowing for self-love.
Released April 26, 2019
When I was in college, I listened to Kelly Clarkson’s My December and everything changed for me. Previously some kind of indie music hipster, I decided to say “fuck it” and embraced pop music. I don’t want to say that pop music changed my life, necessarily, but I think that releasing myself from that self-inscribed pressure to avoid pop music allowed me to, in retrospect, analyze some other long-held beliefs about who I was and what I was into – like religion and gender, both of which I abandoned/transformed not long afterward.
All of this is to say that it’s been a longer road toward appreciating country music. I think we need more queer/trans people in country – though I know why we don’t – and I appreciate Sean Della Croce just for being an out queer folk/country singer-songwriter. That’s a weak recommendation, though, so here’s the rest: this album is beautiful and touching and slick. And their voice! It’s so smooth and ethereal.
Della Croce covers a lot of ground here, but there’s an undercurrent of longing, transformation, and uncertainty. Romance is present, but subdued, on tracks like Rebecca Henry, about unrequited love with a woman whose startling uniqueness is simultaneously attractive and unattainable:
“She doesn’t know her maker’s name/ I wanna know who made her/ ‘Cause she’s got a Walden pond hidden around somewhere/ I’m gonna find it and make a little sense/ Ask her what is time, she says, “You are, and so am I”/ But I, I have to admit/ Rebecca Henry doesn’t see me, so I don’t exist.”
Released March 22, 2019
This one is slightly late, but I had never heard of Liniker and the Caramelows until this past month. Just in time to check out their new music, which feels like such a blessing (there is a new Liniker single out, by the way, with the legendary Elza Soares, but I wanted to feature this album).
Liniker is a golden-tongued Black trans Brazilian singer. I don’t speak Portuguese, but that doesn’t seem to preclude my getting a lot out of this gorgeous album. To be honest, when I started writing this, I was going to look at the Genius page for this album and try translating the lyrics to get a sense of what was going on here lyrically. But I’m not going to do that.
Just watch their Tiny Desk concert and get your life. The vibes are incredible.
Nicotine features six straightforward folky, country-inspired Americana tracks. This EP seems like a perfect bit of the soundtrack for your next long-haul drive across America.
Like Santigold or M.I.A., Siena Liggins creates entirely unique and innovative beat structures and production for her pop/r&b. This goes super hard.
This is my favorite type of electronic music. What would you call it? It’s definitely club-ready and danceable, but it’s also a bit lower-key, like trip-hop.
I didn’t know that Marika Hackman was Amber Bain’s (of The Japanese House, featured here previously) ex! This aggressive, rocking track is potentially a “break-up” song; the lyrics are ambiguous but I read them that way. Maybe I’m too invested, though!
This goes so hard. Niña Dioz released the excellent and hard-hitting Reyna last year, and this track (along with Magdalena (Trap Orquesta)) is a remix. The original was dope but each of these remixes adds just a bit of flavor, elevating them to certified bangers.