By Gregg Shapiro
There are many albums in the annals of recorded music that have been shelved, never to be released. Whatever the reasons—artistic or creative or financial—some of these recordings eventually make it to the marketplace, either as bonus material on expanded reissues of other releases, or as new issues on their own. Faithful (Real Gone Music/Atlantic) by lesbian pop-music icon Dusty Springfield arrives as the latter type of release. It was originally intended to be Dusty’s third album for Atlantic, following the amazing Dusty in Memphis and Brand New Me. Produced by Jeff Barry, who also contributed a few songs, the long-awaited release of the complete Faithful consists of 13 tracks, including the bonus cut “Nothing Is Forever,” as well as the singles “Haunted” and “I Believe in You.” The disc also includes Springfield’s takes on classics such as Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” and Bread’s “Make It With You.”
Stop for a moment. Take a deep breath and take this in: two of the most across-the-board well-reviewed albums of 2015 are by queer acts. Not one, but two. Pitchfork digs them. They make Spin dizzy. Rolling Stone raved about them. The first is Courtney Barnett, a young Australian singer/songwriter whose full-length debut disc Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom+Pop) is so refreshing and exhilarating, it’s like a ray of hope in these dark, electronic dance music-dominated days. Like a queer Exile in Guyville, Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit is full of the kinds of observations (set to memorable music) that only the unaffected can make. Barnett has a way with words, exemplified in brilliant numbers such as “Elevator Operator,” “Pedestrian at Best,” “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York),” “Dead Fox,” “Debbie Downer,” and “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party.” Things do get a little bogged down on the blues blast of “Small Poppies” and the dirge-y and repetitive “Kim’s Caravan,” but those are minor complaints.
Next comes Lower Dens, led by Jana Hunter, and the Escape from Evil (Ribbon Music) disc. It’s a prescient title, considering that Lower Dens is based in Baltimore (also home to the queer duo Matmos). Coming across as an American version of The xx (which also features a queer lead vocalist, Romy Madley Croft), Lower Dens has a knack for creating timeless dream pop that owes a debt to the ’80s (see The Cure)—firmly rooted in the present, but with an eye on the future. Intimate and rhythmic dance tunes such as “Your Heart Still Beating,” “To Die In L.A.,” and “Non Grata” avoids being impersonal—a trap of so much modern dance music. “Sucker’s Shangri-La,” “Company,” “Ondine,” and “Société Anonyme” are also recommended.
The 2014 self-titled Loma Vista/Republic album by queer St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark, found a home at or near the top of several best-of lists last year, and rightfully so. Clark and her disc are included here because it’s still a great album, well into 2015, and because Clark has become less coy about her sexuality and more open about how she identifies—even kissing model girlfriend Cara Delevingne in public. Like the aforementioned Barnett and Hunter (of Lower Dens), St. Vincent makes music that transcends date stamps, meaning that songs such as “Rattlesnake,” “Digital Witness,” “Birth in Reverse,” “Psychopath,” “Every Tear Disappears,” “Severed Crossed Fingers,” “Bring Me Your Loves,” and the overtly queer “Prince Johnny” will all sound as awe-inspiring years from now as they do today.
The all-gay, harmony-driven band Susan Jane makes an indelible impression with its debut album Growing Wild (susanjaneband.com). The quartet, which features three vocalists who alternate singing lead, touches on a variety of musical styles over the course of nine songs. There’s a tip of the old straw hat to alt-country on “Not Wasted.” “Songs I’ve Never Seen” and the addictive “Sleep Is My Drug” are memorable modern rock tunes. The retro pop of “Perfect Person” and the radiant “Morning Light” are two more examples of the band’s versatility.
Lesbian guitar goddess Kaki King made quite the splash in the early 2000s with her distinctive guitar-playing style. After her first album, the acclaimed Everybody Loves You, King went on to release a disc every couple of years. The gap has been a bit longer between 2012’s Glow and her latest, The Neck Is a Bridge to the Body (Short Stuff). The CD companion to King’s 2014 show of the same name, which tours this year, is alternately accessible (on songs such as “Trying to Speak II,” featuring Ethel; “We Did Not Make the Instrument, the Instrument Made Us”; and “Anthromorph”) and daringly experimental (on “Battle Is a Learning,” “In the Beginning,” and “Thoughts Are Born”).
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.