Oh, what a queer year!
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When it comes to LGBTQ music, the present, as well as the past and future, are female. Since the very early days of popular queer music, the women have been the ones to take the lead. While that definitely holds true at the turn of the year, male artists are making certain they are being heard.
1. "Nostalgia Kills" (Pinko), Jill Sobule's first album in four years, is another masterpiece, and deserves the largest audience possible. Living up to its title, the record is a reminder that the past is always with us, and it's up to us what we do with it, as you can hear on "The Island of Lost Things," "Forbidden Thoughts of Youth" and "Almost Great." "I Don't Want to Wake Up" is both familiar and new, and if you aren't crying and dancing with abandon by the end of "I Put My Headphones On," you might want to check your pulse.
2. Everything you need to know about queer singer-songwriter Caroline Rose can be heard on "More of the Same," the opening track on "Loner" (New West). There's humor, sensitivity, insight and an Op-1 keyboard; the combo is intoxicating. It's an honest indication of what follows, on songs that incorporate updated retro new wave sensibilities ("Cry!"), outrageous funk ("Jeannie Becomes a Mom"), 21st-century 60s revival ("Bikini," "Soul No. 5") and perfect pop ("Getting to Me").
3. From the personal lesbian mom tune "The Mother" to the queer empowerment anthem "The Joke," Brandi Carlile created her most far-reaching set of songs on "By the Way, I Forgive You" (Low Country Sound/Elektra). The country-tinged "Every Time I Hear That Song," the stomp of "Hold Out Your Hand," the heartbreaking politics of "Fulton County Jane Doe," the addiction story-song "Sugartooth," the back-to-back forgiving of "Most of All" and "Harder To Forgive" and the astounding album-closer "Party of One" all contribute to making this Carlile's best album to date.
4. You'd never guess from listening to "Historian" (Matador) by out singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus that it's only her second album. In her early 20s, Dacus is one of those wise-beyond-her-years artists whose songs strike a chord with listeners from all walks of life.
5. The devastating "Rifles & Rosary Beads" (In the Black/Thirty Tigers) by lesbian singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier, a product of Gauthier's association with Darden Smith's nonprofit Songwriting with Soldiers in which soldiers are teamed up with professional songwriters, is unlike anything you've heard before. Two of the songs, including the devastating "The War After the War," were written by military wives whose soldier husbands returned from the battlefield wounded. Gauthier, who has a long history of bringing listeners to tears (check out 2010's "The Foundling"), takes that to a whole new level here.
6. "Transangelic Exodus" (Bella Union), described by Ezra Furman as "a queer outlaw saga," is an exhilarating and unforgettable experience that will leave you reeling in the best possible way. Opener "Suck the Blood from My Wound" morphs from pure pop exuberance to static rage in under five minutes. "Driving Down to L.A." sounds like a lost experimental Rufus Wainwright number, and "No Place" will make your heart race. "The Great Unknown" (with a sampled scream) has anthem written all over it, and "Maraschino Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill" is remarkable.
7. The always-brilliant lesbian singer-songwriter and bassist extraordinaire Meshell Ndegeocello put out the cleverly titled "Ventriloquism" (All Points/Believe). She reimagined 11 songs, originally released between 1982-94, in her own distinctive style, and the results are awe-inspiring.
8. "Lush" (Matador), the full-length debut by Snail Mail (aka teen sensation Lindsey Jordan), plays like a reverent tribute to the 90s, the decade she was born. That's the 90s through a queer, 21st-century lens. "Pristine" asks the age-old question, "Don't you like me for me?" and you can dance to it "anyways." "Heat Wave" is as warm as the summer sun, and centerpiece "Stick" reaches a crescendo that stays with you. The dreamy "Golden Dream" will get your kicks moving, and "Full Control" is a sorry-not-sorry anthem.
9. Like fellow queer labelmate Perfume Genius (aka Mike Hadreas), Car Seat Headrest (aka Will Toledo) makes some of the most memorable music of the 2010s. In one of the most ambitious musical moves made in 2018, Car Seat Headrest released the double-disc set "Twin Fantasy" (Matador). The first disc, "Face to Face," is a 2016 re-recording of their 10-song 2011 self-released debut, and the second disc, "Mirror to Mirror," is the original recording of the album.
10. "Not Too Far Away" (BMG), Joan Armatrading's first studio album of all original songs in five years, is sure to please Armatrading fans. Easily her best studio effort since "Lovers Speak," it arrived after Armatrading announced a serious curtailing of her tour schedule. Perhaps with more time on her hands, Armatrading was able to better assess what worked and what didn't, and the resulting album, bursting with love and affection, is a marvelous combination of her 70s and 80s songwriting technique.
11. Remember the way UK bands Gang of Four and The Au Pairs found a way to effortlessly mix the politics of dancing, railing against an assortment of societal ills while we worked up a sweat on the dance-floor? Produced by the brilliant Edwyn Collins, "The Official Body" (Fat Cat) by queer band Shopping picks up where the others left off, with tracks "Control Yourself," "Asking for a Friend," "My Dad's a Dancer" and "New Values."
12. LGBTQ parents in search of family music need look no further than "Songs for the Rainbow Family" (Leather/Western) by The Diesel Tykes, led by prolific gay musician Scott Free. It features a marvelous assortment of guest musicians including lesbian family musician Laura Doherty (the vegan tune "Adopt a Cow"), lesbian duo Congress of Starlings ("The Out Song"), trans artist Elias Krell ("Dress Me in Yellow") and soulful gay singer JC Brooks ("Pride and Joy").