Call Your Girlfriend

I watched Robyn’s new video last night, then went about my life, and then the more I thought about it, the brilliance of it started to resonate slowly. It’s one long single shot, she dances, lights flash. What’s the big deal? It’s the simplicity. In a culture of pop music in which videos are ADD central, and each shot is quick and the cuts sharp, most feel like a visual assault. So, that’s why this is so refreshing to me. I watched it again when I got off work, and again, and then a fourth time. It’s mesmerizing, demanding that the viewer focus without realizing that’s what’s being demanded. For the most part, I don’t listen to much pop music, and for the acts I do, I usually deem them my “guilty pleasures” and won’t admit to liking save for around a select few people. Robyn is my exception. I feel like she’s everything Lady Gaga should be but isn’t. She’s unique. Just look at those dance moves and 80’s wear! The difference is that she’s just herself without the contrived image. This video re-affirms my opinion, and I wanted to share. I started listening to her Body Talk series in January, fell in love with it, also wrote this post in which Robyn was a part of my discussion, and she’s been blowing up my ipod for a solid 5 months now, and I’m going to see her on Sunday, which I feel is like the culmination.

Advertisements

Music Labels



The cover of the compilation album

 ”This is the gayest song of the year,” is what one commentator wrote about the above song accompanying the video. If you don’t know, it’s “Dancing On My Own” from Robyn’s Body Talk — a series of 3 EPs she put out in 2010. If anyone hasn’t checked it out yet, I highly suggest he or she does. Of course you remember Robyn, the classic 90’s singer. Okay, she had one strong hit — “Show Me Love.” Is it coming back? Yeah, I barely recalled her too. I do remember that song all over the radio in the later part of the 90’s, but it’s one of those songs I could easily pinpoint but couldn’t tell anyone the details of what album it was from or even who the artist was for that matter. With this killer comeback, I’m glad I know who she is now. Since buying the compilation album at Ear X-tacy I’ve been listening to it more than occasionally. It’s addicting and has been deemed one of the best of last year by many critics.

Gayest song of the year
What does this even mean? Obviously on first read it could be a criticism. You know, the infantile eighth grade slur that “gay” means “stupid” or “lame.” No, the posts are pretty much a lovefest for Robyn, so I’m assuming this person meant it as a compliment. Or is it pointing to the aesthetic of the musical style? Ever since my three week love affair with Body Talk I’ve been contemplating what “gay music” is exactly. Robyn’s style is electronic dance, so is that what it is? Music you can dance to that would likely be played in a gay club? I don’t hear anyone pegging Tiesto as an artist with a gay appeal. So, do gender politics play into it? Is the artist typically female? This notion is pretty base, but I’ll admit both are accurate to a point. Gay culture has embraced dance music from female artists since the early days when the bars were illegal and run by the mob. So, does that mean “gay music” is what the majority of gay people listen to? I listen to Iron and Wine. Are they a gay band? I’ll stop with this incessant questioning, because I think their rhetorical nature and point has been made, and the answers are fairly obvious. Then again, I don’t think I’ve come to any definitive conclusions and have used this paragraph as a sounding board. What I’ve perhaps gathered is that the answer to its opening questioning isn’t easily answered, and maybe doesn’t have one specific resolution.


Cover art for “Hold It Against Me,” Britney’s latest

Judy Garland. Madonna. Britney Spears. Lady Gaga. These are only some of the mainstream artists pegged as being integral in gay culture, and looking at what they all have in common, it’s easy to decipher the reason. I can only speak from my own experience. I’m about to relay some pretty embarrassing personal history and guilty pleasures, though I hate that phrase. Growing up, I was obsessed with Britney Spears. Part of it stuck. For instance, I get excited when I hear she’s putting out a new album, and my level of thrill with the release of her new song is no exception. No shame. I’ve attempted to analyze why she appealed to me so much. Don’t blame me. She was my generation’s Madonna. I recorded her appearances on TV, learned her dance moves, spent time on fan sites. In psychoanalyzing my young teenage self, this unhealthy interest was appropriate. At a time when I couldn’t express the sexuality I wanted to, a sexuality pegged as feminine, she did it for me in her performances and lyrics. She exuded a sexuality that appealed to men, which is what I wanted to do but couldn’t. It was an escape of sorts. I think this is typical of young boys trying to cope with same-sex feelings. We found someone else to identify with. And, if anyone questioned it, we could explain it away by claiming that we were sexually attracted to this female singer, and that’s even partly true. Identify. That’s the key word, and what these artists have in common. The way Judy Garland’s personal struggles easily mirror struggles gay people go through in the feeling of not being good enough and shamed by one’s body and sexuality. The way Madonna shed repression by sexually inverting religious iconography. The way Britney Spears is a victim of horrendous slut-shaming by the media. The way Gaga celebrates those considered “weird” or “abnormal” with a careless attitude to negative judgment.



The one and only

Then, the actual music itself should be put up for analysis, as I’ve only alluded to ways of identification in these artists’ personal lives and reaction to their commercial persona. In the history of gay culture, mainstream songs by female artists were anthems and played at gay clubs as early as The Stonewall Inn, because of the way the lyrics can have a double meaning to highlight the gay experience of unrequited love, loneliness, trying to find inner strength on one’s own, or trying to express sexual confidence. This identification with lyrical content was the case in the early gay movement with Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and Dionne Warwick, and the same is true now with Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, and Robyn. “Dancing On My Own” is about unrequited love in a crowd, and in the video’s case on an energetic dance floor. In the irony of loneliness while being surrounded by people, I could clearly see why someone would call this “the gayest song of the year.”



Who can resist Judy?

 I’m pleased at the critical reception of Robyn’s Body Talk and hope it will work to shatter the notion that electropop is something superficial and trivial. What’s deemed “gay music” has been dismissed as such. It’s feminine, so it’s lesser. This idea speaks to the larger way of how our culture seeks to gender everything, even music, so only females or gay men are allowed to listen to certain artists, and if someone outside of these categories does, they are immediately questioned. Yet, my identity as gay male is never questioned because I like Yonder Mountain String Band, Sufjan Stevens, Minus the Bear, Nirvana, Lucero, and the list could go on. The gendering of music is no different to how gendered our society is, and is a microcosm of it. Despite that I know multiple “masculine” men who enjoy Lady Gaga, heteronormative and restrictive comments like Lady Gaga is “the complete opposite masculinity” still pervade. And male artists are expected to project a certain air also. One of my favorite male singers is Jared Gorbel from The Honorary Title, because his voice is so unique and passionate, yet the reaction he’s gotten from a few of my friends is that his voice is too “emo.” I feel like this is a reaction to a male singer whose voice radiates strong emotion, and stereotypically men aren’t supposed to display outward emotional responses. When a singer like Christina Aguilera sings with passion and breaks it down, she’s praised for her voice, because this is how women are supposed to sing. When a singer like Jared Gorbel breaks a song down with emotion, he’s being whiny. These double standards are why with Robyn, it’s a delight to see an album classified as “gay” getting such positive welcome from people who wouldn’t ordinarily. It’s an album that breaks down barriers. Although, reading the comments of different reactions to Britney’s new “Hold It Against Me,” in a sea of slut-shaming and misogyny, it’s evident not much will change any time soon, at least until our culture gets over its oppressive gender complex. And, we all know how well that’s going. Still, I like to think the latest offering from Body Talk is one small step forward. Thanks for this, Robyn.

Top Ten New (to me) Songs

After resisting an i-pod for years, I got one for Christmas last year. It was time to assimilate my music, and I’m glad I did, an instance where the convenience of technology outweighs my initial reservations about it. Those reservations have faded since. Anyway, this post isn’t about i-pods but about what they contain. In the past year, even before getting the i-pod, I listened to quite a bit of new music per suggestions from friends, favorite bands putting out new albums, and the decision my sister, Beth and I had to share an i-tunes music library, thus my songs were combined with hers, exposing me to bands she listens to I hadn’t. Here’s my official top ten songs from the new music I’ve listened to in the past year — not new music, but music new to me. The time frame is the beginning of last October to this year.

10. “Feel it In My Bones”/ Tiesto ft. Tegan and Sara

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6UcXSBmyZA&feature=related

I don’t know if this is off an actual album or not. The video circulated around the internet. I saw and heard it on Tegan and Sara’s blog. I love Tegan and Sara. They’re music is so emotionally resonant, and they have some of the most compelling lyrics out of any artist working, at least in my opinion. I respect them the most because each album they come out with incorporates a new sound. They’re constantly experimenting and evolving. On their latest album, Sainthood, they brought in different sounds along with their usual indie-alternative folk — almost industrial pop. Seeing them lay down a track like this, one that’s very techno-infused is unexpected and is a testament to the new sound on their latest album.

9. “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk”/ Rufus Wainwright from Poses

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOkKADCu9WY

I’ve just started listening to Rufus in the last month. This one makes a great opening song for Poses. I think it shows the range of his voice the best on the album. And oh, the coy third or fourth line, “Everything it seems I like’s a little bit stronger/A little bit thicker/A little bit harmful for me.” Thanks for the wink and nudge at the metaphor of the song, Rufus.

8. “Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise”/ The Avett Brothers from I And Love And You

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t43VgJ4U9_Q&ob=av2e

7. “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”/ The Smiths from Greatest Hits

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INgXzChwipY

This one may be cheating. Of course I’ve heard this song well before the past year. I put their greatest hits album on my i-pod, and I hadn’t listened to them in years. I have my favorite Smiths songs, but I forgot about this one and was pleasantly surprised to re-discover it. The verses are filled with such melancholy and longing, contrasted with a chorus that’s so extreme as a result — an undying declaration of love — that it’s almost funny. It’s ironic that this type of chorus is an extension of the genuine feelings before and after it.

6. “5 Years Time”/ Noah and the Whale from Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8YCSJpF4g4

This song makes me smile.

5. “Dance in the Dark”/ Lady Gaga from The Fame Monster

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVCCjSGcnZE

Don’t judge me. I’ve caught Gaga fever after such reluctance. Beth put her double disk (The Fame and The Fame Monster) on our music library, and I started listening. There’s so many reasons I like her I could devote an entire blog post to it, so I won’t make that post this one. The Fame Monster is the most impressive. With only 8 songs, it packs more force than countless other longer albums.

4. “The Mountain”/ Lucero from Rebels, Rogues, and Sworn Brothers

http://www.last.fm/music/Lucero/_/The+Mountain

This link is to a video from the live performance of the song. I couldn’t find any link to the song on the album, but live is better anyway.

3. “Crazy as Me”/ Allison Krauss and Union Station from Lonely Runs Both Ways

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqW1bdkAPek

Again, this comment is about the video link. Sorry about the super cheesy flower background and lyrics. As for the song, I can’t get enough of her voice. Gorgeous. And I can’t believe I’ve just started listening this year.

2. “Left Me in a Hole”/ Yonder Mountain String Band from Elevation

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSMvzoupctE

Again, I couldn’t find a link with the album version, but this is to a live version. I’ve listed a few bands with some bluegrass — The Avett Brothers — or southern — Lucero — influences, but this band is pure bluegrass, which I’ve been getting into a lot of. Sure, living in Murray, KY for four years exposed me to a few bluegrass nights dancing with more than a few drinks in me, but this is the first real bluegrass band I’ve started following regularly after seeing their live show here in Louisville back in February.

1. “The Ocean”/ Tegan and Sara from Sainthood

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_aU2NhzRe7U

I’m ending and closing with T&S. I’m pretty biased. I love them. They opened the concert I saw back in April with this song. It’s the best off of Sainthood, their latest album released last Fall. Their sound pleasantly surprised me. Like I said, it’s borderline industrial. I love how the opening songs from their albums establish the new sound, and “Arrow” does just that. It’s drastically different from their last album, The Con, which was much more indie/alternative. This one doesn’t incorporate any of the new influences; they still stay true to their roots in many of them too, another aspect I like.

That’s all. Thanks for indulging me, if you actually were bored enough to do so.

Horses

I saw the Band of Horses this Wednesday night (Oct. 6th) at the Brown Theatre. I’ve been a fan of them, specifically their debut 2006 album Everything All the Time, for about three and a half years now. I listened to some of their follow up, Cease to Begin (2007), and none of their latest Infinite Arms, released this May save for maybe one song on WFPK, the local public radio station here in Louisville. I mainly went to hear my favorites from their first album live, and the whole concert itself ended up exceeding my expectations.

Everything All the Time is an impressive album, particularly in the broad tonal breadth it encompasses. Many of the songs feel almost monumental in their mellifluous energy (i.e. “The Great Salt Lake”) contrasted with tunes that are more subdued and meditative (i.e. “Monsters”), along with one that incorporates both elements (i.e. “The Funeral,” a fan — and my personal — favorite). Their live show translated this range well.

The lighting design was one of the more impressive ones I’ve seen in my concert-going experience; the bar was set high after seeing Tegan and Sara on their latest tour back in the spring, the last concert I went to, that was free anyway. A mix of warm reds, purples, and oranges flashed to enhance the epic characteristic of the faster paced songs while static blues and whites set the tone for the gentler numbers. A projection screen sat behind them to display landscape images, appropriate for the mountain-esque and woodsy naturalistic ambiance in their music.

Now to the core of the concert: the music itself. The star of the show — just like their albums — was front man Benjamin Bridwell’s voice. It simply enthralls. It reverberates to create this captivating, ethereal, and haunting quality. This vocal trait is evident in their CDs, but actually hearing him live was a treat. He holds this subtle gregarious air about him that charms. And this feeling may be a product of his stage presence, but he’s pretty easy on the eyes too. As for the rest of the horses — this may be an overall critique of the band in general — they weren’t anything special in view of the rest of indie-southern rock world. I can say this for them though: I don’t claim to know much about the technical aspects of playing music, and I’m not going to pretend to, but it seemed to me like they played perfectly, at least as perfectly as I expect. I wish I could say the same for their opener, Brad. The other opener, Blake Mills, wasn’t too bad taking into account how amateur he is in a solo role.

They provided a good blend of new material with old despite my worry thirty minutes in. They played seven songs off their first album: “Wicked Gil,” “The Funeral,” “The Great Salt Lake,” “Weed Party,” “Part One,” “The First Song,” and “Monsters.” Regardless of some obnoxious woo! girls and yeah! guys chanting for it, they never did play “St. Augustine.” I mean, do you like any other songs? If I were to officially rate the concert, I would give it a 3 out of 4 stars.

If you haven’t checked them out, I suggest it, and start with Everything All the Time. I may be a little biased though. I never got into their newer stuff, because of the love affair I had with their original. The concert definitely makes me look forward to listening to the other two albums in their entirety, spawned from what I felt closing my eyes, hearing Bridwell echo in the venue, and it was like I was in multiple places at once: in my car by myself during many trips their CD accompanied me in a range of highs and lows in my life, and there in that auditorium surrounded by people, listening to them play their songs for me in person, almost transcending time, which really, is what the magic of music ends up amounting to.