Arts » Music

All-Summer-Long LGBTQ Playlist

by Gregg Shapiro
Sunday Jul 16, 2017

Queer singer-songwriter Sia has been messing with her appearance on her album covers for years. It didn't just start with 2014's "1000 Forms of Fear" or either version of 2016's "This Is Acting." For example, for 2010's "We Are Born" her face was peppered with colored dots and colorful pipe cleaners were woven into her hair, making her look like a hipster Medusa.

But it can all be traced back to her third album, 2008's "Some People Have Real Problems" (Monkey Puzzle/Concord), newly reissued in its first-ever vinyl pressing. On the cover, Sia is grasping a trio of magic markers with which she has drawn a heart and lines on her face. As for what's contained inside, the songs on "Some People Have Real Problems" marked something of a turning point for Sia. Sounding more confident than ever, in total control of her powerful instrument, Sia belts out original numbers "The Girl You Lost to Cocaine," "Day Too Soon," a cover of The Kinks' "I Go To Sleep" and the CD hidden track "Buttons." She's also joined by Beck on "Academia" and "Death by Chocolate." It's easy to understand why, shortly after the release of this album, she became an in-demand guest vocalist on other people's albums, and a sought-after songwriter who would go on to provide hit songs for others.

King of the key change, the newly officially out Barry Manilow has released one of his best albums in many years. The news of Manilow's gayness might not have shocked devoted Fanilows, and few can dispute his longstanding love affair with his hometown, which he celebrates affectionately on "This Is My Town: Songs of New York" (Decca), a career high. Manilow's schmaltzy vibrato is in full effect on this soaring set of originals and covers. The best of the Manilow tunes include the show-stopping title cut and the bright and bouncy "Coney Island," as well as "I Dig New York" and "On the Roof." Manilow still has decent interpretive skills, as you can hear on the "Downtown/Uptown" pairing, the Bernstein/Comden Green composition "Lonely Town" and the eight-song "NYC Medley," which is as jam-packed as a rush-hour subway car.

To call the phenomenal "No Shape" (Matador) by the brilliant Perfume Genius (aka Mike Hadreas) his most accessible album to date is really saying something. But it's true. By no means abandoning the subversive nature of his previous albums, including 2012's "Put Your Back N 2 It" (including the song "Hood," which featured the now-deceased gay porn-star Arpad Miklos in the video) and 2014's "Too Bright" (featuring the incredible single "Queen"), "No Shape" sounds like an altogether more soulful effort. There is another side to opener "Otherside." "Slip Away" is the first of the album's irresistible future-pop numbers, such as "Wreath," the stunning "Sides" (a duet with Weyes Blood), and the modern soul of "Die 4 You." Perfume Genius, Car Seat Headrest, Frank Ocean, John Grant, Shamir, and a few others are redefining queer male pop music and setting the stage for what's to come.

Palehound, led by Ellen Kempner, a lesbian singer-songwriter in the vein of straight artists Elliott Smith and Liz Phair, as well as queer contemporaries SOAK and Tegan and Sara, returns with the outstanding second album, "A Place I'll Always Go" (Polyvinyl). A song cycle of love and loss, the album features "If You Met Her," "Turning 21," "Flowing Over," and the heart-wrenching "Feeling Fruit," followed by "At Night I'm All Right with You," which conjures Angelo Badalamenti and Julee Cruise just in time for the Twin Peaks revival.

Young, queer "nu-folk" goddess Marika Hackman and guest backing band the Big Moon raise a ruckus on Hackman's second album "I'm Not Your Man" (Sub Pop). Opening with a laugh and inviting listeners in on the joke, "Boyfriend" is the musical equivalent of Gloria Steinem's "like a fish needs a bicycle" quote. The only difference is that you can dance to "Boyfriend." A close chum of queer model-actress Cara Delavigne, Hackman explores a range of female relationships throughout the album, with songs including "Good Intentions," "Time's Been Reckless," "Eastbound Train" and the incredible "My Lover Cindy."

Produced by Viktor Krauss (brother of Alison), Love Comes Back Around (Graylin) by lesbian singer-songwriter Jennifer Knapp, who famously began her career as a Christian musician, is the third album she has released as an openly queer artist. Now back in Nashville after living in Australia for several years, Knapp can be heard embracing her country side. Songs such as "Girl Thing," "Roll Over Me" and "Roman Holiday" are among Knapp's mostly proudly out numbers.

You might not expect to find alt-metal band Linkin Park in a column about LGBTQ music, but here they are. The explanation goes like this: The band's 2012 album "Living Things" featured a collaboration with gay singer-songwriter Owen Pallett on the song "I'll Be Gone." Five years later, Linkin Park's new album "One More Light" (WB) features another unexpected collaboration. The song "Heavy," featuring vocals by Kiiara, was co-written by gay hit pop songwriter Justin Tranter. That song, "Sorry for Now," and a few others on the album, are distinct departures from Linkin Park's trademark rap/rock sound.

Perfume Genius performs on July 18 & 19 at The Independent in San Francisco. Marika Hackman performs on July 31 at Starline Social Club in Oakland.

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