Queer Your Ears is back! I took a mental health break from writing online during the second half of 2018 (being an outspoken trans person in public is sometimes terrifying and exhausting) but it’s a new year. And there’s so much new music! This month, there are some wintry tracks for relaxing and looking out the window at a rainy day, as well as some upbeat stuff for breaking out of the doldrums. And a bunch of stuff in between.
Queer Your Ears will be a regular series highlighting some of the lesser-known (and some of the known!) recent releases from queer and trans musicians. Are you or do you know of a queer or trans artist with an upcoming release? E-mail me and I promise I’ll listen (no promises about whether it makes it into my monthly roundup, though).
New this year: QYE is now a podcast! If you’d like a bit more commentary and/or musings with your new music, and/or like the podcast format, it’s something new I’m trying — and you can subscribe and/or check it out here. It’s the very first episode, and my first podcast ever, so check it out but expect the quality to improve as I learn what the heck I’m doing. Also it’s only available on Anchor right now; I have to do a bit more due diligence before it’s OK to appear on Apple Podcasts and such. Stay tuned.
Dodie, “If I’m Being Honest” – Human
Album Released January 18, 2019
“If I’m Being Honest” is a soft, endearing, gorgeous, sad little ballad. Nearly every queer person has an “I hope they’re gay — do they really like me? No way. I’m ugly/dumb/not cool enough/etc. They’re just messing with me” experience. “If I’m Being Honest” digs deep into that often all-encompassing uncertainty: “I look disgusting today/ …Hope has a cost: keeping all fingers crossed and held tight/ But I look idiotic, with my limbs all knotted. It don’t feel right/ Truly you’ve shaken me, and I think you like how I plead/ And I have a hunch that that’s all you wanted from me.” The video, which has seemingly very little to do with the song, is nonetheless one of the coolest music videos I’ve ever seen — futuristic, hopeful, beautiful.
The title track, a duet with Tom Walker, is simple and dour, which belies its lyrical positivity, on the surface about the ribcage-breaking vulnerability that comes with falling in love. Dodie herself has commented on the track, though, re-recorded for this album since its original release in 2016, and re-contextualized it: “…the lyrics mean something different to me now. I see desperation, obsession, codependency.” It’s a thin line. “She,” on the other hand, is a cute lesbian unrequited love song; it’s almost as morose as some of the other tracks, but still sparkles with hopeful uncertainty: “And she means everything to me, oh/ I’d never tell/ No, I’d never say a word/ And oh, it aches/ But it feels oddly good to hurt.”
Buy it here.
Sir Babygirl, “Heels” – Crush On Me
Album Releases February 15, 2019
Sir Babygirl, like Joanna Newsom or Amber Coffman or Nao, has a voice that takes a bit of getting used to. It’s brash, electric, and biting. But also transcendent, uncommonly beautiful, creatively applied. Their brand of electropop bounces and flits on smooth and airy synths and pounding percussion and guitars, but the trademark is Babygirl’s deconstructed and reconstructed, sometimes discordant, self-harmonizing vocals.
“Crush on Me” doesn’t come out until February, but until then we have a few songs and a couple music videos. The video for “Heels,” above, is charmingly low-budget and quite bizarre. I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely sure what “Heels” is about, but “Flirting With Her” is, as you might expect, a cute exploration of queer romance, and “Haunted House” reads to me like a metaphor for mental illness and social anxiety: “…I can’t tell if I’m drowning or floating/ So I just keep on going, going/ And I don’t even know if I wanna be free/ ‘Cause the freedom of this party is killing me.”
Buy it here.
rain, “500 bodies” – neonbinary EP
Released December 28, 2018
Rain is a cute queer super-indie low-fi band I just discovered on bandcamp. Their last album, “post card (8 bit demos)” was, as you might have guessed, completely 8-bit, which I love – and also features many of the same songs that appear on “neonbinary,” which is fun. It’s like an artist remixing their own song, so you get to appreciate two different, but complimentary, visions of the same idea. “Neonbinary” isn’t 8-bit. If you like low-fi electropunk, though, this album will definitely scratch an itch.
“500 Bodies” isn’t on the 8-bit demo album, so we have to appreciate it as-is. The song is guitar-based, with a nice pounding punky drum bit, but what rain does so well is sprinkle in some synth and electronic elements underneath the more standard punk aesthetics. It’s subtle and smart. The song’s lyrics mirrors my experience in almost any crowded place — “It’s like the walls are closing in every second/ there’s more and more people/ and less and less air.” I have social anxiety — maybe because of my brain chemistry, maybe because I’m a visibly trans person — and “RUN LIKE FUCK!” does flash into my mind nearly every time I feel suffocated by a crowd! The above-linked YouTube video had literally ONE view when I was grabbing the link for this post, so… maybe throw them a little support? You can listen for free on bandcamp, but it’s also less than $4.00 to buy their entire discography, so. You know. Do it.
The Japanese House, “Lilo” – Good At Falling
Releases March 1, 2019
This album doesn’t come out until March, but I can’t wait. Hopefully we’ll continue to get a few more singles before then! The Japanese House is a gorgeously-produced synthpop project helmed by Amber Bain. While the percussion feels like neo-disco drum machine 101, it’s muted a bit in the background to let the languid, dreamy melodies wash over each other in the foreground, punctuated with the occasional wood block or steel drum-ish beat. What’s so unique here, though, is the way Bain modulates her voice. It’s always double- or triple-tracked, with some reverb, so it seems like every phrase is uttered by triplets, each with a very slightly different register. The multiple versions of the voice aren’t harmonizing — except when they are — but support each other in an endearing, disorienting way.
“Lilo” and “Follow My Girl” are the standout singles we can listen to so far, though “Maybe You’re the Reason” is cool, too. A “lilo” is an inflatable mattress in British English, apparently; the song’s lyrics make a bit more sense knowing this. I can’t tell if Gemma in this song is an ex-lover who has moved on, or a friend of whom our protagonist is jealous, or someone with whom she has a more complex relationship altogether: “And Gemma told me that she met someone/ It was the person I’d been counting on/ It felt good, it felt transitional/ A feeling I’d been waiting on.” Whichever, floating down a river on a lilo, an “easy ride,” going with the flow, whether we’re OK with our friends/exes meeting new people, whether it’s the catalyst for a release we’ve been waiting for, or just something indefinable, we can listen to the Japanese House for some chill vibes to make it through.
Buy it here.
iLoveMakonnen ft. Gucci Mane, “Spendin’” – Single
Released January 11, 2019
Mainstream hip-hop often gets a bad “rap” (see what I did there?), especially but not exclusively from non-Black people, for its glorification of capitalistic measures of success (among other things). It’s true that the ubiquitous “I’m rich, I’ve got money, look at my designer shit” rhetoric is problematic (and, real talk, overdone at this point), but I like to put the trope (in songs like this one, for example) in context.
For most of American history, and to a slightly lesser degree still, Black people have been systematically, socially, and often violently excluded from wealth-building. In that context, boasting about one’s wealth is actually a revolutionary act. It reminds me of when very successful people recount an early teacher, parent, or authority figure who told them they would “never amount to anything,” and then flaunt their success as a means of throwing shade at the naysayers.
All that being said, this is a fun, basic, “I’m rich” track, featuring Gucci Mane. iLoveMakonnen doesn’t do anything particularly special with the trope, but knowing he’s a gay Black man adds a bit of weight to this line in particular: “Hit the block with my friends in Vegas/ Know we sinnin’, sinnin’.” Everyone “sins” in Vegas, but queer people are gonna be “sinners” in many folks’ eyes no matter what we do, so why not “sin” on purpose, and in style, and stunt on your haters while you’re at it? Sounds good to me.
Buy it here.
Lizzo, “Juice” – Single
Released January 4th, 2019
Lizzo is one of my all-time faves, but she only gets honorable mention here for not being “out,” as far as I can tell, except in this Twitter post, where she said she’s not straight, bisexual, or gay, but instead “lizzbian,” and posted a pic of an all-rainbow fit. I think that says enough, but you never know these days.
“Juice” is a banger of a track, a summer dance hit if there ever was one, but released in January to help us heat up the winter. “If I’m shiny, everybody gonna shine” is my new political mantra, by the way! Glow up and bring your crew along! Community positivity. Her songs are always empowering and fun, and this track is no exception. And of course, that video! If you ever looked to Nicki Minaj or Meghan Trainor for your big girl pride jams, you need to prioritize Lizzo instead. “I’m not a snack, I’m a whole damn meal” is a MOOD.
Buy it here.