Eleven new discs, from American standards to glam metal punk.
By Gregg Shapiro
Stephin Merritt is not one to sit still for long. Between the release of his new Magnetic Fields disc, the fittingly titled Distortion (Nonesuch) and the previous one (“i”) , he put out both his Showtunes disc and one by another of his numerous bands, The Gothic Archies. During that time, the openly gay Merritt also seems to have been listening to his share of Jesus & Mary Chain, because that’s what Distortion most resembles. Of course, it’s the crunchy and distorted J&MC guitar sound as synthesized through The Magnetic Fields. How else could you get the surf rock of “Three-Way,” the stinging slap of the Beach Boys antithesis “California Girls,” the modern drinking song “Too Drunk to Dream,” and the potentially controversial “The Nun’s Litany”? The feedback feast is made more potent because of Merritt’s trademark wordplay.
Renaissance man LD Beghtol was part of The Magnetic Fields line-up for the legendary 69 Love Songs set. On his own, like Merritt, the gay Beghtol is involved in more than one musical project, including The Moth Wranglers and
Flare. Amoral Certitudes (Acuarela), the follow-up to the 2005 Tragic Realism, is the new EP by LD & The New Criticism. Over the course of six irresistible and accessible tracks, Beghtol and company deliver, dare it be said, some downright radio- and iPod-friendly tunes that encourage singing along and unself-conscious dancing. Cases in point: “AKA Paradise” and “What You Will,” featuring Dana Kletter.
Beghtol can also be heard performing on Ukelear Winter (benlerman.net), the new disc by queer comedic songwriter and ukulele player Ben Lerman . Lerman is so adept at writing parody lyrics that the Kinsey Sicks better watch their crinolined asses. Examples include “Anderson,” about Anderson Cooper, sung to the tune of “Alison,” the Elvis Costello classic; “Not a Cub,” based on Britney Spears’ “Not a Girl”; and “Asian Baby,” a new approach to “Santa Baby.”
On his new CD, Night and Day (patrickarenamusic.com), Patrick Arena divides his time, like night and day, between standards and originals. His stripped-down interpretation of the Cole Porter title tune makes it sound
like a jazz lullaby. Arena (“gay, and proud of it,” says his website) has a good time with “I’m Always Drunk in San Francisco” and gets the appropriate emotional mileage out of “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” Arena gives Biello & Martin’s “In My Body” a jazzy polish, and when it comes to his own compositions, “Barefoot Boy,” “Belvedere,” and “Where Have You Been All My Life?” are worth a listen.
Evil Beaver is crouched at the opposite end of the spectrum from Arena. Their queer punk-metal is the driving force behind Enlightening Without Dazzling/2 Berne Live (evilbeaver.us), a disc that combines studio tracks with a live set from a 2006 concert in Berne, Switzerland. Prepare to be rocked. Like Evil Beaver, the Toilet Boys rock hard and heavy. Led by trans vocalist Miss Guy, who sang a duet with Deborah Harry on her most recent disc, the Toilet Boys return with their own glam brand of metal-punk on the long-delayed final release, Sex Music (Dead City Records), best exemplified by “Drug of Choice.”
Queer Klezmer punk—is it a mitzvah or meshuggah ? Vote for the former and you’ll be backing a winner like The Shondes. The three-quarters kosher quartet recalls Sleater-Kinney on their memorable debut disc, The Red Sea (shondes.com). Radical and rocking tunes such as “Let’s Go,” “At the Water,” “What Love Is,” and “The Start of Everything” are required listening.
If Pansy Division played Americana, they might sound something like queer trio The Winsome Griffles on their folksy debut disc, Meet the Girffles (winsomegriffles.com). Led by Larry-bob (of Holy Titclamps fame), The Winsome Griffles focus their fierce attention on frightful entertainment and its long-lasting impact (“Birthday Party Clown”), a low time on the high seas (“Gay Cruise”), changes in friendships (“Your Stupid New Boyfriend”), a religious reality check (“Atheist Gospel Song”), bullies and willing victims (“Crush Me”), and more.
Queer rocker Ariel Aparicio has never sounded more like Bono than he does on “Heaven” from his latest album, All These Brilliant Things (ariel aparicio.com). On the other hand, “The New World” has a distinctive David Bowie edge. In fact, throughout the disc Aparicio slips in and out of various styles like a runway model. A gay dad, Aparicio is dedicating all the proceeds from the sale of his single “I’m the One” to the Paul Chester Children’s Hope Foundation. Other notable tracks include the hard rocking “Jameson & Cocaine,” the Latin-tinged “Down in Tijuana,” and the rhythmic “Hang Around.”
The thing about the girls-with-guitars club is that it would seem that there won’t be a shortage for the foreseeable future. Emily White sounds as though she’s been studying the best on her terrific new CD, 12 Ways to Live (emily-white.com). For instance, White sounds as though she’s emulating Melissa Ferrick on “Believe in Me,” while making her own wholly original statement. “Omaha” sounds as if it could be from the Jonatha Brooke songbook. Comparisons aside, White never fails to be captivating on this lively disc, particularly on the songs “7th & A,” “Every Pulse,” “Georgia,” and the disc’s most unshakable track, “Good Enough Reason.
“Static is reigning on the radio,” Ron Morris sings in “Boyfriend,” the opening track to his Boyfriend and Other Sides of Love (ronmorrismusic.com) EP. The retro-rooted composition makes reference to “My Boyfriend’s Back,” not only by weaving the line into the song but also through the girl-group shoo-bops in the background. Morris’ reading of the classic “Frankie and Johnny” takes advantage of the inherent queerness suggested by the song title. A cover of “We All Sleep Alone” (a Cher hit co-penned by out singer/songwriter Desmond Child and Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora) and the original “Masterpiece of Why” maintain the vintage spirit. The disc closes with four remixes of “Boyfriend,” all of which, in their own ways, find new ways of allowing the listener to experience the song.
Gregg Shapiro is a past recipient of the annual OutMusic award that recognizes contributions by non-musicians in furthering the work of GLBT performers.