By Gregg Shapiro
When someone asks you who your favorite gay band is, what do you usually answer? Culture Club? Indigo Girls? Queen (led by bisexual Freddie Mercury)? Fanny? Judas Priest (led by gay leather-clad Rob Halford)? R.E.M. (led by Michael Stipe?) The B-52’s? Smokey? Hüsker Dü? Pet Shop Boys? The Murmurs? The Runaways? Erasure? These names only scratch the surface of musical groups featuring all (or mostly) out members. The following are a few more current LGBTQ bands well worth your time and attention.
The Magnetic Fields have been making music as a band (in various formations) since the early 1990s. Merritt, who has talent to burn, also has other bands, including Future Bible Heroes, The Gothic Archies, and The Sixths; he has also released solo recordings and composed film and theater scores. The triple-disc set 69 Love Songs, released in 1999, was one of The Magnetic Fields’ most ambitious and well-received projects. Merritt describes the equally impressive new five-disc set 50 Song Memoir (Nonesuch) as his “autobiography in 50 songs,” one for each year of his life. Disc one covers 1966 through ’75, disc two covers ’76 through ’85, and so on through 2015. As delightfully gay as ever, songs such as “Judy Garland” (disc 1), “Why I Am Not a Teenager” (disc 2), “Me and Fred and Dave and Ted” (disc 3), “Lovers’ Lies” (disc 4), and “You Can Never Go Back to New York” (disc 5), are just a few of the welcome additions to The Magnetic Fields’ massive songbook.
Led by the brilliant Stephin Merritt, a cross between Stephen Sondheim and David Sedaris, At first, when you hear the amazing song “Living in the City,” the second track on The Navigator (ATO) by Hurray for the Riff Raff, you might think you’re listening to a new Michelle Shocked album (minus the religious fanaticism and homophobia). But you’d be wrong. Like The Magnetic Fields, Hurray for the Riff Raff is the creation of one person—in this case, Alynda Segarra—working with several guest artists, including Yva Las Vegas. A folk/punk concept-album masterpiece, it’s Woody Guthrie meets David Bowie, as pop as it is political. Thrilling and theatrical (“Pa’lante” sounds like an homage to Hedwig’s “Midnight Radio”), international and inspirational (“Rican Beach” and “Finale”), and undeniably powerful (“Hungry Ghost” and “Life to Save),” The Navigator will leave you cheering.
Returning with its first album since 2013’s Tales of Us, Goldfrapp, featuring queer lead vocalist Alison Goldfrapp, delivers the shiny Silver Tree (Mute). The 10 tracks effortlessly incorporate the band’s musical styles and directions. Goldfrapp’s dance-club heartbeat pulses throughout “Anymore,” “Everything Is Never Enough,” “Become the One,” and, to a lesser degree, “Systemagic.” The synth experimentation for which Goldfrapp is known can be felt on “Moon in Your Mouth,” “Ocean,” and “Tigerman.” The band’s warm, chill-out side is represented by “Beast That Never Was” and “Faux Suede Drifter.”
About U (RCA) by queer female trio MUNA is a blast from the ’80s Goldfrapp, delivers the shiny past—from the vocoder on “Winterbreak” to the irresistibly persuasive dance energy of “Crying on the Bathroom Floor,” “End of Desire,” “Around U,” “I Know a Place,” and “Loudspeaker.” Songs such as “So Special” and “Promise” sound like 21st-century updates of underrated queer Canadian band The Parachute Club (of “Rise Up” fame).
Born in the L.A.’s “queer punk underground,” French Vanilla is a feminist punk band that makes the best use of a saxophone and a bass line since Romeo Void (of “Never Say Never” fame). The band’s self-titled Danger Collective Records debut channels the ’80s through a 21st-century lens and amplifier. French Vanilla pays homage to everyone’s favorite telekinetic in “Carrie” and “Anti-Aging Global Warming” (with its “accept-your-days-are-numbered” mantra) are a couple of examples of the variety of subject matter.
Hiraeth (theharmaleighs.com), the new six-song EP by queer “indie Americana” duo The Harmaleighs (creative and personal partners Haley Grant and Kaylee Jesperson), is as soothing as a milk bath. The harmonies are gorgeous (“Diamond Ring” and the difficult “Birds of a Feather”) and the pair is not afraid to crank it up a bit when necessary (the subtle country-rock of “Mouthful of Cigarettes”).
Check out our June 2017 playlist featuring the artists above.