Monday, January 28, 2013

2012: A Landmark Year for Gay Music

My Pazz & Jop comment that The Voice published was taken from a larger submission. Here it is, below, in full:

Alex Ross, in his New Yorker piece from November about the progressive strides that the gay rights movement has made, surmises, "Today, gay people of a certain age may feel as though they had stepped out of a lavender time machine."

Yet amid brief discussions of straight artists like Lady Gaga and Carly Rae Jepson, Ross
a music critic, it should be notedfailed to identify 2012 as a landmark year for gay musicians. (He did, however, enter into the race for quote of the year, writing, "At certain moments, straight people can seem gayer than the gays.")

These were Frank Ocean's twelve months. His Fallon performance, the second movement of "Pyramids," making bandannas almost as cool as the Boss once did: the list goes on and on. And, oh yeah, he declared his one-time love for another man on the advent of his debut album, ahem, coming out.

Channel Orange is a record that critics laud despite having a difficult time pigeonholing. In late December, I went to my local record store in Denver and was shocked to find the album in the rap section. It's probably an R&B effort, yes, and all of the bluster about Ocean's reinvention of the genre isn't all that over the top. From Pitchfork to People, it's the rare release the connects with a wide swath of the populace. On "Bad Religion," Ocean sings, "Unrequited love, to me, is just a one man cause / Cyanide in my Styrofoam cup / I can never make him love me / It's a bad religion to be in love with someone who could never love you"
lines that spurned humans of any stripe can connect with.

Grizzly Bear is doing a bang-up job of making itself a supergroup as an afterthought, Daniel Rossen and Ed Droste fronting, and other members being Chris Bear and Chris Taylor. The quartet keeps busy elsewhere before coming back together, only to record some of the finest pop music in the world. Droste, a homosexual, is one of our best vocalists, with an ability to convey frailty yet confidence, the crux of the Brooklyn group's shy-power dialectic. As sure of a bet as any in the music world, Grizzly Bear's record from this year, Shields, came through in spades with an unmatched clarity of production.  

Watching Perfume Genius's video for "Dark Parts" made me think of my gay father and the struggles he's encountered over tumultuous decades. Mike Hadreas walks lovingly with his real-life mother though a forest as his lyrics ring out: "But he'll never break you, baby." There's much implication that the tough guysthe men's menstill don't get it. I don't know Hadreas's father and I don't know his life. But, I do know that his ruminative debut Put Yr Back N2 It can be absolutely devastating.

On "Take Me Home," Hadreas laments, "Take me home, tend to me, baby lay me down easy, for I have grown weary on my own." It's painful stuff and might not be directly correlated with being a homosexual. Still, there's an edge, there. We are lucky enough, as Ross's history indicates, to live in a time where we can assert that an individual's sexuality "doesn't really matter." And while it distracts us from what really countsthe music, in this caseit does so in an ever-dwindling amount. It is getting better, Dan Savage but, of course, we aren't there. Yet, we can distill some smiles from the bloodshed. Would any of these records have been as good as they are without struggle?

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