Queer Your Ears October 2019: New Music From Queer & Trans Musicians

It’s spooky season! We already have our official spooky songs playlists here, so if you’re looking for Halloween-style music, please go check out that post and its literal hundreds of spooky tracks. And of course, Kim Petras has blessed us again with an entire album’s worth of Halloween-themed bangers with TURN OFF THE LIGHT (I’m going to see her live in like a week, I can’t wait).

Other than that, though, I don’t have much thematically to say this month! It’s fall, so #feelingsfall continues — Claud has some baby gay angst anthems, Heather Mae has all the feelings if you want to cry, and Big Thief gets raw and vulnerable. But Sui Zhen has some pleasant, surprisingly deep yacht rock to enjoy, Young M.A released an album that you can dig into with Al here, Rosa Bordallo released a powerful shoegaze/wall-of-sound rock album that’s worth checking out, and much more. And before I forget! Here is the playlist. Yes, there’s nearly every song I’ve ever featured on QYE on here! It’s so long that it won’t display them all, so you have to click that link, and scroll to the bottom for the new stuff.

This past weekend, I was at the TRANScend retreat, finally as an attendee rather than an organizer. I got to connect with some folks I rarely see, relax, and sit around a campfire with a handful of other trans folks discussing, among much more intense topics, which songs we read trans narratives into. I of course mentioned Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Your Type” — that analysis was, after all, my first published piece of writing. Queen, Incubus, and Bruce Springsteen (“Dancing In The Dark” is about a trans sex worker and you can’t tell me different) all came up as well.

But I was thinking a lot about Sui Zhen, whose album has been on repeat for weeks. I couldn’t believe she isn’t trans after listening to this. It’s such a trans album. But then again, the idea that things that we experience as queer and/or trans people are so different/distinct from what cis and/or straight people experience is kind of a divisive fallacy! Of course, if there was no point to intentionally exploring and celebrating queer and trans artistic narratives, this column wouldn’t exist, so I don’t want to think too hard about that. Instead I’m going to keep enjoying all of these tunes, and I hope you do as well!


Sui Zhen Losing, Linda

For Fans Of: Little Dragon, The Bird & The Bee, YACHT

Sui Zhen’s music is deceptively simple. It clearly wants you to interpret it, on a surface level, as a modern, electronic version of yacht rock, or easy listening-style pop. If you don’t listen too closely, this is very inoffensive background music; great for studying to or walking around the lake on a pleasant weekend afternoon. I think pleasant is a great word to describe how I felt on my first listen to Losing, Linda. But it’s the details that make this album so fascinating. I put it on repeat and listened to it over and over, discovering new things each time.

I think that’s because Sui Zhen is a master electronic music craftswoman. Especially when you listen to her past work (Secretly Susan is also excellent) and recognize that she’s capable of more-traditional “electronica.” It makes this slight departure seem incredibly intentional. Every song bounces with just the right amount of manic energy. Every drum fill is perfectly suited for where it sits in the track — in the mix, when it enters and exits, how long it reverberates — and this is true as well for the synths, the basslines, for Zhen’s vocals — for the splashing water effect at the end of “Night River Rider,” even! Every song seems to show off a new technique, but they all sound impossibly cohesive. The most talented electronic musicians make you forget that you’re listening to electronic music — that you’re listening to music at all, really; that there are individual instruments (or plug-ins, I suppose) working together to achieve the whole — it just all sounds natural together, like each song manifested itself fully-formed.

And that’s just the music. She also seems to be hiding something poignant — sometimes even sinister — behind simple phrasing. For example, on “Being A Woman,” she describes the pressures of existing as a queer woman in society in what I consider to be pretty basic terms. But whispered at the beginning of the track is the phrase ”This is what they told me.” To me this implies criticism! Later, she seems to contradict herself. On “Different Places,” she posits: “Time is what you make it/ you can stretch it if you try.” But on the very next track, “Perfect Place,” she changes her mind: “Time doesn’t stop, it won’t give up/ it goes on and on.” I get the feeling that nothing about Losing, Linda is as simple as it seems — especially because the album was released along with a bizarre online project that I can’t explain and some wonderfully inscrutable music videos. It could also be that I’m reading way too much into everything, though. Regardless, the album is extremely pleasant to listen to, so I guess it doesn’t matter too much.


Claud, Sideline Star

For fans of: The Blow, Architecture in Helsinki, Mirah

This is such a cute baby queer album. Claud is 20 years old and wrote a little album about identity, and becoming an adult, and relationships, and being a baby queer! If Tegan and Sara’s new album doesn’t have enough young person queer exploration of self and relationship, then Claud has you covered. “Wish You Were Gay,” by the way, is also the name of a Billie Eilish song, and when I saw it on her most recent album’s tracklist, I thought it would be a about crushing on a friend — but it was actually, disappointingly, essentially the opposite? But Claud did us all a solid and wrote a song actually deserving of the title. It has all of the hypothetical, impossibly perfect, lovely scenarios that so many of us daydreamed about when we were young: “Picture this, you and me in the morning/ kissing over the coffee you’re pouring/ it could be like that every day/ hate it that I wish you were…” I’m sorry, Claud, but when you get over your straight friend and find someone who’s actually right for you, you aren’t actually probably going to kiss over coffee every day. Sometimes you’ll fight, and hurt each other, and stuff. But it is nice to dream. To be fair, the music video does lampshade the unrealistic nature of the song’s hypothetical, so they’re not that naive.

“Sideline Star” is Claud’s term for essentially being a third wheel, or an underappreciated friend, or the person folks use or rely on or take for granted. This short album (is it an EP?) is full of very catchy, straightforward, simple bedroom-type (but not low-fi) indie pop songs about essentially this concept, just from 8 different angles. Overall it’s very Gen-Z 2019; trap-inspired beats background low-key synthpop melodies and Claud’s incredibly earnest vocals. And, I mean, they took a bunch of Instagram stories and made a vertically-oriented music video. It doesn’t get more Gen Z than that!

My overwhelming feeling while listening to this album was the desire to give these songs’ protagonist a hug. I hate the idea that “it gets better” or “you’ll understand when you’re older,” but that’s all I could think of while listening to “Want To,” for example, about feeling like you’re a burden on your friends, or they only keep you around because it’s too hard to tell you off, or other anxiety-inducing hypotheticals that probably aren’t true. I really know this feeling! It’s heartbreaking and exhausting and I felt that way when I was younger. But I learned later in life that relationships are two-way streets, and sometimes you have to be the one to reach out, and sometimes people are maybe feeling the same way and don’t want to impose on you! Regardless, I’m excited for more music from Claud. This is super cute, incredibly enjoyable pop music.


Heather Mae, Glimmer

FFO: Mary Lambert, My Brightest Diamond, Ingrid Michaelson

I am a huge Mary Lambert fan. I cried and cried with everyone else at A-Camp when she blessed us with her frankly overwhelming vulnerability. I can’t wait until her new album comes out next month. Heather Mae’s album Glimmer hits very similar emotional and musical chords. If you listen to this album — and have a heart — you will cry. I guarantee it. If you don’t, then… check in with yourself? Because this album takes listeners to that place. You know that place? Where you’re aware of every one of your weaknesses and vulnerabilities all at once, and it’s overwhelming, but it’s also incredible and transformative and empowering because you’ve never actually seen yourself so clearly, and you’ve survived — even thrived — despite/because of the struggle you’ve been through and you just, love yourself, so much, and you’re crying not because you’re sad necessarily but because you’re really, really alive? Um, yeah. This album kinda took me to that place.

If that doesn’t sound like a place you want to go, then just listen to “You Are My Favorite,” which is — honestly — the sweetest, loveliest lesbian love song I’ve heard in a long time, maybe ever. A commenter on last month’s Queer Your Ears linked me to it, and then I was weeping in public. And I sent it to my girlfriend, and this song was the one song that I was then inspired to build an entire “I Love You” playlist for her around. It’s like, just really beautiful, and so is the music video. I feel like I learned what love is, at age 32, when I listened to this song.

The rest are piano-based ballads and pop songs buoyed by Mae’s lovely, raw, expressive vocals. She digs deep into mental health, relationships lost and found, feminism, and self-love on this short record. It’s tough, and goes to some pretty dark places. But it’s altogether incredibly uplifting. “I’m not afraid,” “I’m not ashamed,” and “I’m still here” are powerfully chanted refrains — literally — on this album, and all are messages I personally needed to listen to over and over, and cry out my feelings to. If you’re willing to take the healing journey, it’s worth it.


Big Thief, Two Hands

For fans of: Car Seat Headrest, The Mountain Goats, Mount Eerie

The primary word associated with Big Thief is raw. A second one could be intimacy. This album is really profound, Americana-influenced indie rock that kind of sneaks up you. Some of these songs are plaintive, mostly-acoustic ballads (“Rock and Sing”), and some of them are heartbreakingly intense, sometimes shouted, gritty anthems (“Not”) that you wonder how vocalist Adrianne Lenker is going to perform live regularly. Throughout, though, is that raw vulnerability (“Cry with me/ cry with me” pleads Lenker on “Rock and Sing”) and Lenker’s voice, which is fascinating in its authenticity and immediacy. At first I heard Joanna Newsom, but I think it’s more Janis Joplin — either way, it’s entirely unique. It seems intentionally un-pretty because these are not pretty songs and they’re not about pretty things.

On “Forgotten Eyes,” which seems to be about homelessness, her voice strains on the verse (“the poison is killing them/ but then so am I/ as I turn away”) and then breaks on the hook (“The wound has no direction/ everybody needs a home and deserves protection”), and the way she holds the word “tongue” on the outro (“Forgotten tongue/ is the language of love”) feels like a Biblical lament. The breaks and breaths and notes held “too long” are as much an instrument as everything else on this album. But the instrumentation! The album not only sounds like it was recorded live, but that it was recorded on the first take — which isn’t to say it seems sloppy, because it doesn’t. It just sounds like it’s happening in your living room, during the last practice before a huge tour, when the band knows exactly what they’re doing but feels loose enough to experiment. One of the wildest things about this album is that it’s the second one Big Thief released this year. UFOF is also incredible.


Honorable Mentions

Mercy Bell, Mercy Bell

I’m not a country music fan, but Mercy Bell really does it for me. I’ve listened to her singles, eagerly anticipating a full-length, and she delivers. I learned to love steel guitars, organs, strings, and simple, straightforward melodies during my bluegrass phase in college, and Bell’s album uses these — and more — as well as her powerful voice, to great effect.

Marinho, ~

This is evocative, complex, fascinating, soulful indie rock. It explores the intricacies of healing from emotional abuse with beauty, clarity, and, to be honest, some incredibly catchy melodies.

Mylo Choy, Night Is Like The Ocean

Night Is Like The Ocean is a short acoustic folk EP by newcomer Mylo Choy. The chords are simple, but the feelings are big.

Rosa Bordallo, Reef Walker

This is a powerful album. Bordallo is CHamoru, indigenous to the Mariana Islands. Raised in Guam and living in the U.S., the album explores with intensity and aggression ideas of community, travel, leaving and returning home. If you’re looking for walls of crushing, but beautiful, fuzzy electric guitar, Bordallo has you covered.

Ultrademon, Chamber Music

A lot of these songs could have probably fit on the spooky songs playlists. Lilium Kobayashi makes intensely cacophonous, discordant electronic music. This is a tough, biting album, both angry and vulnerable, about processing through abuse, neglect, and eventually finding a community of love and support.

Abeni Jones is a trans woman of color artist, educator, writer, and designer living in the Bay Area, CA. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter or check out her website at abenijones.net. Got a music recommendation, a positive trans woman story/news item, or wanna book me for something? e-mail me by clicking here!

Abeni has written 41 articles for us.

4 Comments

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.