As a look back on LGBTQ+ Pride Month, I am going to discuss my top 10 favorite albums from queer musicians since 2010. I chose to evaluate each album based on its cultural influence, cultural significance and aesthetic value, and as usual, some radical inclusions have been made to represent diverse tastes and a variety of queer identities. As we all know, queerness is a radical act, and artists that express their queerness — whether through their personal lives or within their music — struggle not only against standard industry ferocity but also a queerphobic and abusive milieu. It is crucial to recognize that the beauty of queerness exists everywhere, whether it’s buried in the depths of the internet or seen on giant sound stages at music festivals. This is the first article in a three-part series.
One issue I considered while writing this top 10 was representation across a broad scope of demographics, particularly ethnicity. It was important to me to oppose the idea that queer liberation is a white endeavor for predominantly white people, especially at an institution where gay liberation is literally white. I’m somewhat conflicted about the list’s success in this respect, given that I ultimately recognized three artists of color across the honorable mentions and top 10 list. I recognize that improving representation in the queer community is a continuous experience and act, but I hope the list shows a large range of queer experiences. I hope to uplift the queer community as a whole by supporting art from the entire queer universe.
Without further ado, here are the five honorable mentions for the list, alphabetically according to artist name:
- “Arca” (2017) by Arca. This “art pop” album from Venezuelan trans female electronic producer Arca is a looming, subtly terrifying exercise in experimental sound, with pure, beautiful tones rumbling.
- “I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES” (2021) by Backxwash. Trans industrial hip hop producer and rapper Ashanti Mutinta has created a magnum opus of horrorcore, with powerful thumping beats influenced by heavy metal and post-rock alike.
- “Flood Network” (2016) by Katie Dey. A trans female musician from Australia making some of the best experimental hypnagogic bedroom pop I’ve ever heard, Katie Dey is taking bedroom pop to new places with each and every album she releases, and “Flood Network” is perhaps her greatest work thus far.
- “Too Bright” (2014) by Perfume Genius. Our gay queen, Mike Hadreas, came out of the woodwork once more to set our hearts on fire with his trademark genre-bending songs that find their foundations within art rock, soul music, baroque pop and so many other sources.
- “The Origin of My Depression” (2019) by Uboa. A darkly ambient, drone-y and noisy album from trans female Australian artist Xandra Metcalfe that talks about mental illness, transness, relationships and an inability to love. The album is a truly enrapturing experience appropriate for anyone willing to take the plunge into death and darkness.
#10: “What’s Tonight to Eternity” (2020) by Cindy Lee
In 2008, a group of male teenagers formed a band in Calgary, Montreal called Women. Guitarist Pat Flegel, bassist and brother Matt Flegel, guitarist Chris Reimer and drummer Mike Wallace were unstoppable forces of experimental noisy post-punk music from their inception, creating two records called “Women” (2008) and “Public Strain” (2010), the latter of which garnered significant critical acclaim.
But only two years after the quartet broke up suddenly during a furious onstage fight during a tour stop at the Lucky Bar in Victoria, Reimer passed away in his sleep at the age of 26 from a heart condition. That deeply traumatic and tragic incident in the history of indie rock sent the remaining former members of Women to create their own bands, with Matt Flegel and Wallace creating the post-punk band Preoccupations and Pat Flegel creating a solo project where he performs in drag as Cindy Lee.
The death of Reimer haunts the current musical output of Cindy Lee. In an interview I conducted with her, she insisted that throughout her musical life, she has been primarily inspired by AM Gold, a definitive collection of 1970s soft-rock hits. I don’t doubt her; in “What’s Tonight to Eternity,” Cindy Lee’s recent remarkable album, she sings ballads to the static moon, wondering about the days in which people leave each other and heartaches sink to the bottom of deep emotional lakes within us. The hypnotic noise soundscapes that Cindy Lee utilizes throughout her work don’t seem inspired by AM Gold to me, but there’s always an overriding clear touch of pop melodic genius throughout everything her fingers touch, and perhaps the use of hypnagogia originates from deep recesses of her mind rather than Interpol or Glenn Branca.
The second single from the album is titled “Heavy Metal” and is in memory of Reimer. When the strings come in, and Cindy Lee sings, “Could this be a life without love, without loss/With the one you took away from me” in echo-y reverb-laden vocals, the complex, effortless guitar lines — similar to the ones Lee was known for writing throughout Women’s short history — make one wonder whether music, in its infinite hypnagogic potential, is the final way to escape death’s circling approach in the end. Rest in peace, Chris Reimer, long live Women and long live Cindy Lee.
#9: “Lush” (2018) by Snail Mail
For many of us, “Lush” was our first introduction to Lindsey Jordan from Baltimore, but now it’s hard to remember the days before Jordan was the queer female wunderkind of the indie rock streets. I think for most of us, she was always the queen of indie rock electric guitar, her voice effortlessly flowing over interweaving guitar melodies and lyrics about lovers of past summer days. On “Lush”’s second track, “Pristine,” she offers a climactic poetic razor as the drums slam into the air and she tells us that “we could be anything/even apart.”
That’s something I’ve reminded myself of amid past gay heartbreaks, too: that being two apiece doesn’t mean our possibilities as people are in any way limited. It’s the voice climbing up as she sings, “who do you change for?/who’s top of your world?/who’s your type of girl?” that reminds me that maybe we shouldn’t have changed at all in the first place. We’re all bottle-lovers and desperate queers. We’re all changing ourselves for the one we’re interested in, slamming ourselves into twin possibilities like heavy guitar chords: together or apart. On one of the other singles from the album, “Heat Wave,” Jordan obsesses over a former lover’s green eyes between fuzzy guitar melodies. That obsession with the traits of a former folly — the shoulders, the collarbones, the knees, the eyes — brings an aspect of the queer experience to Jordan’s music that begs to be mistaken for tricks and techniques of an ordinary love song. But Jordan’s queerness demands for her music to be taken seriously as queer narrative, and when she asks us — or maybe herself — ”who’s your type of girl?” it becomes more and more apparent to me that she’s singing about girls on all of these tracks.