Out In Music: the best in LGBT sounds

One of the best albums by a queer artist in 2013 (if not the best), “Pale Green Ghosts” (Partisan/Bella Union) by John Grant hits all the right notes. Grant succeeds whether dabbling in invigorating queer electro or making timeless modern pop. The combination of elements, including Grant’s warm, but commanding, baritone and his gift for turn of phrase, make these 11 songs worth returning to repeatedly.

Keep in mind, the subject matter is a bit bleak – “Pale Green Ghosts” is, after all, a breakup album, and Grant spends as much time putting himself through changes as he does his ex. Still, there’s something irresistible at work. The suitably haunting title cut percolates like a bitter brew. Funky fashion statement “Black Belt” (“what you’ve got is a black belt in B.S.”) is karate chop set to a disco beat. “GMF” stands for “Greatest Motherfucker” and strikes a sexy balance between pathos and parody, while “Vietnam” is as heavy as the war to which it refers.

“You Don’t Have To” takes memory games to a whole new level, while “Sensitive New Age Guy” deserves to be spun at tea dances for the remainder of the year. “Ernest Borgnine” not only makes reference to the titular Oscar winner, but also to “The Shining” and “I Hate This Town” is a song we could probably all relate to at one time or another.

The Pet Shop Boys’ fittingly titled “Electric” (x2/Kobalt) is the gay comeback record of the year. Approaching the 30th year of their prolific recording career, PSB electrifies listeners with their strongest set of songs in years.

Considering the increasingly icy relationship between pathetic Putin’s Russia and the gay community, the timing of “Bolshy,” featuring Russian lyrics, is a bit unsettling. That said, “Love Is A Bourgeois Concept,” ranks with the best of Tennant and Lowe’s work – it’s a flawlessly modern dance track, drawing on many of PSB’s trademark tricks, wrapped around the duo’s brand of intellectual and sarcastic lyrics. The dancing doesn’t end there – “Fluorescent” is dazzling, “Inside A Dream” is wistfully wonderful, “The Last To Die” is a lively tune on par with “…Bourgeois Concept,” and “Thursday” includes a rap performed by Example. Be sure to get wired to this disc.

Stepping out on her own after a decade with queer folk trio Girlyman, Tylan (Greenstein) doesn’t disappoint with her solo disc “One True Thing” (tylanmusic.com). Expanding on her already impressive songwriting and performance skills, Tylan exceeds expectations with “St. Stephen,” before teaming up with Lucy Wainwright Roche on the gorgeous “Earthquakes.” Roche isn’t the only one supplying star power here. Amy Ray can be heard on the tearjerker “Already Fine” and that’s Coyote Grace on “Lying In My Grave.” “One True Thing,” like John Grant’s aforementioned “Pale Green Ghosts” is a breakup disc, boiling over with powerful emotions. Lesbian breakup expert Melissa Ferrick would be wise to watch her back.

The static and feedback crunch of “Brennisteinn,” the opening track of “Kveikur” (XL), is a good indication that Sigur Ros, led by out gay front man Jonsi, was going for something else with this disc. The song eventually blossoms into a full-fledged rocker, by anyone’s standards, which is as unexpected as it is fulfilling. You can hear the new direction elsewhere in the percussion and brass of “Hrafntinna” and the strings on “Isjaki” and “Rafstraumur.” Thanks to Sigur Ros, Iceland has never been hotter.

A countertenor with a four octave range, Bobby Blue is audio sunshine. That’s what makes “Sunshine” (House of Dandridge) such a perfect name for his new album. “Born, bullied and teased” in Indiana, the Brooklyn-based musician radiantly triumphs on this 12-track disc. Divided into two parts, “the album” and “the DJ set,” Blue weds acoustics and electronics to luminous effect on the title tune, “Blue Island,”  “Go” and “Feel Good.” He also puts a gorgeously gay spin on the Bread classic “If.” Blue also sparkles on dance-oriented cuts including the Guanacaste Radio Mix of “Pura Vida,” the Tim Letteer Club Mix of “In A Song” and “All The Stars” featuring DJs From Mars.

Back when Logo was a gay cable network interested in promoting gay content and LGBT artists, singer/songwriter Ariel Aparicio was a regular presence, his provocative and creative music videos in constant rotation. But times change and Aparicio has changed with them, now fronting a band called Bardot. The quartet’s new seven-song self-titled disc features a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Maker.” That should give listeners an indication of where Aparicio’s head is at. But it turns out to be one of the mellowest tracks on the disc. “Sylvia, My Love,” “History of Ferris Wheels” and “Satellite,” on the other hand, rock with a blustery blues energy that would make Led Zeppelin blush. The disc’s finest moments can be found on the irresistible pop of “Still The Rains” and subtly country “Little Face.”

Patrice Pike first crossed our radar as the lead singer of the Austin band Sister 7. Sister 7 parted ways late in the last century and Pike has kept busy recording and releasing solo albums. Her latest, “The Calling” (Zainwayne) finds Pike in a reflective mood. From the JFK reference on “Count On You” to the musical philosophizing on “Blame,” to the message of hope and concern on “Firefly” and the declaration of love on “I Won’t Give Up,” Pike calls to us and we should listen to what she has to say.

In the late 1980s/early 1990s, UK band Kitchens of Distinction was notable for having an openly gay lead singer, Patrick Fitzgerald, singing about same-sex love, and also for being critics’ darlings with a decent following among the indie-rock crowd; quite an achievement for that time. But it all came to an end when KOD disbanded in the mid-1990s. Nearly 20 years later, Kitchens of Distinction have returned with “Folly” (3 Loop Music). Fans are sure to be thrilled the way the band has maintained its trademark (and influential) guitar sound combined with Fitzgerald’s distinctive vocal style. Highlights of this recommended album include the marvelous “Japan to Jupiter,” the catchy “Tiny Moments Tiny Omens,” the extravagant “diamond leashes” of “Extravagance” and the aptly titled “The Most Beautiful Day.” 

Among the other out musicians making LGBT History Month in October especially memorable are singer/songwriter Camille Bloom, who returns with the six-song EP “Big Dreams” (camillebloom.com). It features the compelling acoustic version of “Damage,” the pretty closing number “To The End” and the humorously hidden track “Self-Righteous Pedestrian.”

Queer Austin trio The Please Please Me give you plenty of reason to “Shake A Little Harder” (thepleasepleaseme.com) on its five-song EP, beginning with “All Dance Out,” “She Leaves Notes” and “Exile.”

Leah Jee comes across as an old-school rocker on her six song EP The Rest Is Ours (leahjee.com), especially blistering tracks including “Coming After You,” “The Golden Ticket” and “Straight Up.”

Blonde Afro’s “Troubleshoot The Moon” (blondeafro.com) opens with the snazzy jazz of “Home” before diverging in various directions including the funky same-sex love anthem “Spread The Love” and the plucky ballad “It’s Never Enough.”