12 Sounds You Must Hear Before Summer's End Part 2
Login  |  Sign Up

 The Mid Ohio Valley Gazette

12 Sounds You Must Hear Before Summer's End Part 2

August 6, 2014
Twelve for Twelve
The Dozen Sounds You Must Hear Before Summer’s End
An all-out, all Out Guide to can’t-miss music - Part 2 of 2.
by Bill Realman Stella

6 more to make an even dozen — because one is not enough. Out Gay musicians have returned to the front of the pop music scene and — for the very first time — are Out from the start of their careers. I have no beef with the accomplishments of the Indigo Girls, Melissa Etheridge and k. d. lang, nor with Erasure and Culture Club, nor more recently with Adam Lambert and Neon Trees. But they all stayed closeted from the public until they reached a level of success. It took a dozen years longer than I expected, but FINALLY things are changed. The moment has arrived.
Gay culture for the first time just last month accomplished the first Pop hit album by an Out Gay musician - Sam Smith - whose career has never been closeted.
Now we have to get over the thoughts and beliefs we keep to ourselves: that we just don’t have enough talent, depth, whatever — that we aren’t enough: the scarcity mentality. Scratch that notion: We BGLT-Q musicians are plentiful. We have an abundance of talent. Just for this piece, I considered over 30 Out BGLT-Q artists or bands who’ve recently released music or will soon. (The bands have Out BGLT-Q core members.) For every Indigo Girls consistently performing to crossover audiences, for every Adam Lambert “controversially” breaking through to new audiences, we have dozens of noteworthy, often great artists hungering for an audience’s attention. That’s right — you get to be their prize. You can handle more than one at a time, can’t you?

6. John Paul Sharp ~ Dif’raunt
About a decade ago I got sent a CD by John Paul Sharp. I was not impressed and passed on reviewing it.
But wait! I did say “a decade ago”, right? It took me nearly that long for me to check in with him again, and what a difference a decade makes!
Too many musicians don’t really grow much in a decade, especially those who out of necessity are on a lonely DIY path. But JP has worked hard at his craft, found numerous collaborators, and kept pushing himself to work on new projects, averaging an extraordinary three releases a year. It’s as if has grown wings.
After recognizing his name on another musician’s Soundcloud page, I skim the list of songs on his Soundcloud, intrigued by the name of his latest project, “Dif’raunt.” Suddenly, drawn to start a song with the unlikely title “Better Bitch,” I shift from unimpressed to very impressed. Upon hearing the lyrics “Push yourself / Bring your spirit back to light / They may throw shade / And cut you down / They haven’t beat you yet / You are worth it / You can be the Better Bitch,” my excitement grew. Sung by two successive vocalists with lithe tenor voices that take charge of a leaping, climbing melody, I felt some back of my neck chills. Sharp is joined by Jason Dooley, and their voices inhabit the personas, I imagine, of the Mothers of a Drag House. There are characters here! More goes on than meets the ear!
Well, “Dif’raunt” has arrived, and you can hear it all at Spotify.
“Dif’raunt”’s lead-off track, “Good Morning to You,” seems to have traveled from the first act of a rags-to-riches musical, a pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again number, sans pick or dust, and certainly not over. “Safeword” assumes a tongue-in-cheek posture, brought by light sweet piano plunks joined by insouciant chimes accompanying vocals worthy of a children’s TV show singing “When you have a good buddy / And you trust each other / You can tell them a secret / For when you play-pretend.” You get the picture this educational message may not be a pretty one, but it’s definitely edutaining! “Dif’raunt”, so far characterized by its wit and humor, surprises by following “Safeword” with “For Tonight,” a duet with Jean Burchfield, and a touchingly warm ballad.
“Dif’raunt” can be wickedly funny, and deeply affecting. Sharp and his collaborators’ talents shine with what now are rarely called Art Songs. I hope they keep at it, and continue to provide evidence that the Chamber Music world has some contemporary vivacity. You’ll want to stay to the end of the show just to see what else might happen. One listen to “Dif’raunt,” and you’ll want a “Better Bitch” of your own.
JohnPaulSharp.com has links to listen to almost everything Sharp has recorded. For one dip into his catalog, his 2013 concept album, “The Fool,” is here. Use Soundcloud.com/johnpaulsharp to listen to a selection of tracks without Spotify.

5. Lucas Mire ~ Heyday
Pop balladeer Lucas Mire (pronounced meer-RAY) returns with his brand new album “Heyday”. Like J P Sharp, Mire is another singer-songwriter in it for the long haul who has honed his craft as he matured. Also, like with J P, my expectations have been shattered — I have to rip up my synapses and start over now — to be replaced by a much improved view.
“Heyday” begins very well, and sustains that level through it’s very fine first few songs. I was reminded of songwriters beloved by other songwriters, whose dedicated fanbases manage to pull modest sales, people like the aforementioned Kenny White, or David Wilcox. But… “Heyday” stopped reminding me of others and started to set standards of its own once I encountered “You”.
Whenever I see a song titled “You,” I think this can’t possibly work. And I’m always right. Until now. With “You,” “Heyday” shifts from a collection of songs just-as-good as most Pop artists’ hit albums into a showcase for an undiscovered strong songwriter. “You” is not merely good. As a DJ I once knew used to say, “CHILLS, baby! Chills!” Something incredible and hard to describe happens when I encounter an impossible song — No one is super-human enough to transcend the cliched, to make a song titled “You” into a special experience. But yes, despite my deeply ingrained doubts, someone is human enough to do it. “You” is a song destined to be associated with special occasions. (IF YOU make it happen, Listeners!) Mire employs sentiment without dripping in sentimentality, placing images stuck strikingly adjacent to draw constant attention and cause exquisite contrast, choosing specific and often universal details that allow anyone to love this song for their own personal reasons. It’s magic of the highest order.
To give you a taste of the elegant beauty of the language, the lyrics begin - the spell begins: “You are the first word in my favorite book / You are the last sip in the cup / You are the last breath my mother ever took / You would never show me up /“ and the chorus is: “You, you saved me / You, knowing you / It changed me / Just you being you.” The few songs like this in the world, which one responds to with caught breaths, which cut through everyday cynicism to allow tend-to-be-cynics like me a breath of optimism - I believe they are the inspiration which truly changes the world.
With that intent, the call goes out: I want to see the videos of enamored Mire-wannabe’s singing their versions of You on YouTube, I want to hear the remixes that bring You to dance floors, I want the vocal arrangements written for choruses - Gay Men’s, Women’s, Community, heck, Gospel too - to raise spirits by. You’ll get on that now, won’t You?
With almost no room to give to the rest of “Heyday,” I’m committing a sin to just observe that the magic lingers like shimmering glitter wafting in the breeze on tracks which follow, on “Night,” on “Shotgun,” on “Heyday,” on “The Best Lines,” on “The West Coast” - in short, on the songs that follow You. I’m trapped with that half-giddy, half-sick feeling of How Could This Music Be Ignored? Yet I’ve seen it happen before.
“Heyday” confirms my belief that if albums like this, just as good as those that get pushed into the public consciousness, were similarly publicized, were treated like the hits they could be, easily a dozen current Queer recording artists would be selling album copies and tickets enough to earn a decent living at it. Instead musicians like Lucas Mire - and most people in this list - make a living at something else, plowing what they can from it into their music.
Change the paradigm, people.
Don't walk, RUN! to hear songs from "Heyday" at LucasMire.com (hosted at Bandcamp) .

4. Jill Sobule ~ Dottie’s Charms
Jill Sobule doesn’t stand still. Constantly seeking new challenges, she may not any longer have the spotlight she had with her first hit record “I Kissed A Girl” (not the one Katy Whatshername hit with in 2008). I turn around, and Sobule has collaborated on songwriting with Ben Lee. Turn around again, and she appears on cable as a Brooklyn street musician in the very good, but if you blinked you missed its theatre run film “Mind The Gap” starring Alan King. Turn around recently, and she’s on tour with Julia Sweeney, the comedienne best known for her “It’s Pat” character. And that’s just three examples off the top of my head of Sobule’s endearing wanderlust.
For her latest turn, “Dottie’s Charms,” you can’t do better than to delve into a thorough feature article at Harpers Magazine online. Accompanied by illustrations, you can find links to stream all eleven of the album’s story-songs (hosted at Soundcloud) and to several videos there.
It begins “A couple of years ago, Jill Sobule was given a vintage charm bracelet as a gift.” And by turning trinkets into the inspiration to write songs with a different lyricist for each charm, we now have an engaging album of mysterious origins, artful speculation, and unexpected collaborations.
The jaggedy-jig melody of “Oh Canada” nested on a richly harmonic bed of chords embeds itself willfully into your brain. “Wedding Ring” sings of love that has slipped from romantic bliss into shakey survival, a song that’s a natural for a smart Country hit maker to cover. “Women Of Industry” could be a natural rallying song for unions the world around, simply by placing the initials of their own union where the ABWA appears here.
Jill Sobule’s restlessness is our boon, and we would best act on that benefit to seek out her current work and her catalog. JillSobule.com/

3. Fred Hersch ~ Floating and Free Flying
Much as I love Jazz, my listening habits leave little time for it. I know I have to seek it out, to make a little effort, because most Pop/Rock/Folk/Soul/Country music, and its audiences, and my friends who love those musics, exist somewhat isolated from Jazz music and its audiences, and from friends who love Jazz.
The best reason I know to listen to new Jazz now is Fred Hersch. His two most recent albums are exceptionally fine, which is practically typical of Hersch recordings for over a decade. Last year’s “Free Flying” - duets with guitarist Julian Lage - and the Fred Hersch Trio with this year’s “Floating” - both with Hersch playing as if pianos were always meant to sound this good - welcome the listener into an intimate experience. “Floating” begins with a version of the classic American standard “You & The Light & The Music” that inspires the feeling of dancing on air. One can be at ease in the presence of these performances, both familiar and unexpected. No need to brush up on lingo or study music theory required. But your ears will take note of interesting elements - a cluster of notes here, a brush of color there - and will quickly attune themselves to expect more than Pop music repetition from Hersch and companions, and will get it. “Masterful” may be overused, but when in the presence of a master who both exercises your ear and gives you ease to stay attentive, that’s a mighty masterful musical accomplishment.
FredHersch.com will give you a quick eight-minute introduction to his latest sounds. Sample "Floating" here. Sample "Free Flying" here. For a deeper dive into the Fred Hersch catalog, I recommend “Leaves of Grass,” which sets Walt Whitman’s words to Hersch melodies and arrangements.

2. Great Caesar ~ Great Caesar
Great Caesar’s video for their epic song “Don’t Ask Me Why” has brought this new band well-deserved attention from smart, appreciative, early-adoptive audiences since it debuted early in 2014. Composed and sung by John-Michael Parker, and perfectly realized by the band, “Don’t Ask Me Why” dares present several stories of young love as equally challenging and equally of worth. It pares the message down to its common core: the richness of individuals’ lives and the different ways we express love have in common the same human values of caring for one another and dreaming for something better. Video auteur Alex Colby begins with a childhood love story between a black boy and a white girl and links it with two Gay teen couples - young men who get bullied even though they try to hide their love, and young women who reveal their relationship to their parents but get rejected.
***Watching this video makes me cry.*** I own up to it. Because it happens every time. I’m tearing up now, writing this, just thinking about it.
“Don’t Ask Me Why” motivated me to see more of them. I trekked (four trains) to see them play in Brooklyn, their home base. Seeing them perform live, with friends onstage opening for them and jamming with them, and many more friends in the audience, just affirmed my certainty that Great Caesar is A Band To Watch.
To re-cap: Their video is awesome, their live show was awesome, even their fans are awesome! (One of my pet peeves is disengaged audiences.) I couldn’t ask for more. Except maybe for more new music.
In addition to “Don’t Ask Me Why,” the new self-titled “Great Caesar” EP, available here, features the beautiful, slow-building ballad “Still Love”. It’s a gentle, intimate song, sung as if it were lying in bed next to you. The horns that enter at precisely the 2 minute mark are like a bliss-inspiring finger running softly over your skin, as the sounds, the feelings, grow, swell, ever more blissfully, bolstered by happy-to-be-with-you drums, until, three minutes in, voices appear and jolt you in a bolt of joy — then lay you back into a warm, reverberant afterglow. It's a real good song.
More romantic goodness comes by way of "Holiday," bathed in the light, sweet awareness of every sensation sensed in the presence of one's love. It stays acoustic and pastoral throughout, but turns into a romp as if teasing us to chase it, a run that extends for a couple minutes of earthy jamming, with an overlay of sunshine-dappled guitar soloing.
“Bury Me" stakes its place among dramatic performances balanced by enough discipline to sidestep cliches and prevent itself from becoming overwrought. Each iteration of its lyric line adds a new turn for finding meaning. A scream is heard just above a whisper. Stephen Chen injects melodic muscle into a saxophone solo that in any other band's hands would be notated lazily, between non-musical brackets to span the required number of bars, as "Sax: Play Atonal". Instead, Chen brings us wild expressiveness without sacrificing listenability.
These songs demonstrate that (for the most part) the Brooklyn scene and the generation which the band comes from fundamentally get the age-old message of the power of love, that when it’s expressed honestly and without coercion, love is love. These artists entertain and express the newest, nowest struggle to be free of irrelevant traditions in the name of love. It gives me joy to realize that Great Caesar both embraces and celebrates Queer sexuality without getting cornered into a small public identity made for yesterday’s society. They have a strength, a gestalt - a whole greater than the sum of its parts - that doesn’t owe itself to any one sexuality or identity definition. Great Caesar is a band that makes becoming a person its hallmark.
Follow them at GreatCaesarBand.com. Also: Such great songs deserve to be owned, and the band has put together a quality, inexpensive package so as to make us all fans!
Catch Great Caesar before they take over the world. They return to the venue I first saw them, performing August 8 at Glasslands in Brooklyn, NY. Admission only $10 for 3 bands. Gigs in Vermont and California follow. I must add, lead singer/songwriter John-Michael Parker strikes a charismatic and irresistible presence on stage. To say what no one else is saying out loud (but I do believe everyone is thinking), he's way hotter in person than he appears in photos or in the video.
And for a deeper look at the aspirational side of the band, watch
We've Got Some Dreaming Before We Die | John-Michael Parker

This talk was given at a TEDx event (produced independently of official TED Conferences).

1. Bob Mould ~ Beauty & Ruin
Everybody mentioned thus far hasn’t had the history of a successful career, sometimes down, mostly up, that Bob Mould has had. Still, I believe Mould is woefully under-appreciated.
The band Husker Du may not be a household name, the band Sugar might at best be cult-hit wonders, and the despairing solo albums may be hard for some to listen to. The turn-of-the-millenium genius found on the albums “Modulate” and the pseudonymous anagram “Loud Bomb” are long past due to be recognized for inventing new directions for EDM long before EDM became the huge phenomenon it is now. And the BLOWOUT Gay Men’s dance parties, geared to Bears but welcoming all, (found in cities across the U.S. for a decade, now ended) set the standard for men’s parties without the trappings. And fergahdsake he wrote The Daily Show’s theme song!
Bob Mould is the man behind all of these, the creative engine, the life given to exploring music without category or confining box. Despite all that, he doesn’t exactly have celebrity status. And maybe that’s because, contrary to what many think of about musicians, entertainers, and Gay Men in particular, Bob Mould’s life now appears to have valued something more than society asks of an entertainer.
Like wisdom.
Based on his past decade and a half, Bob Mould music should come with a warning label:
CAUTION - Wisdom On Display.
Specifically, Rock & Roll wisdom. The man rocks with a passionate depth which every young Rock & Roller should aspire to - but many can only hope to attain. Mould has found his voice, then questioned and become insecure about his voice, and regained his voice so many times now that his toolbox of talents give even his simplest-seeming Rock record character earned from stepping toward higher ground when doubt or adversity struck. Mould’s talents lift “Beauty & Ruin,” his new album, to that place where Rock channels its artistic bonafides, the spot that dares to appear disposable and shoddy but which demands you scratch its skin to see the blood and the passion seething just beneath. Hell, the title alone: Beauty & Ruin! Think of that! It’s a hook to hang the idea on that youth and age are possessed within a person’s lifetime - and Mould hangs black and white photos of himself then and now, like jackets on hooks, onto the sides of the album jacket. I had to consciously restart breathing when I first heard that album title.
From “Little Glass Pill”’s use of a Rock-standard single note drone throughout all the chord changes to “I Don’t Know You Any More” -- another in a long list of Mould’s catchy Grunge-Rock Pop song, to the ironic juxtapositions of nonsense doot-doots, “sweet cinnamon spice” and “hummingbirds” against a thick jangle of reverberant guitars and those “Hummingbirds are always hours away from death”, as sung in “Nemeses Are Laughing,” Mould does what he does best — he creates yet more new spaces for him to play, to explore, to discover new possibilities, within boundaries which are confining for lesser talents. By incorporating a touch of grit or sheen or depth he transforms these common tropes into powerful listening experiences.
A peak powerful moment occurs on “The War,” when the first verse demands “Listen to my voice / It’s the only weapon I kept from the war.” With those words, one is caught short, unable to equal its blunt message with blunt listening, only capable of mustering as much empathy as one can for the following metaphor: “This war we fought was violent and long / Weeks turned into years but we kept on keeping on / The ringing in my brain / Is what remains.” All that follows is colored by this post-war aura of heightened awareness and mundane significance concluding in a triptych of furious life-affirming railing against the faces of darkness with “Tomorrow Morning” (“I know it turns out fine, following the exit sign / At least that’s what I tell myself / Tomorrow morning”), “Let The Beauty Be” (“Let the beauty be, don’t ruin it for me / There’s room for everyone / In the fog and in the sun”) and “Fix It” (“The magic and depression / It settles in like cancer of the soul / … / Fix it, fix it, fill it up / Time to fill your heart with love”).
“Beauty & Ruin” is another Bob Mould album packed with Loud Rock treasures. Inspired by the simply profound act of living his life, he just keeps finding new peaks of creativity to reach for and attain.
In another authentic move, Mould promotes “Beauty & Ruin” very seriously by not taking himself seriously in his FunnyOrDie.com video for “I Don’t Know You Any More”. Look for the bomb shaped like an Apple™ icon.
To savor the lyrics, sample the songs and oh, by the way, avail yourself of their store, go to Merge Records.

Savor these waning days of summer: Squeeze every ounce of warmth and sunshine you can from these Gay sounds — and do it before Summer’s End. Because there will be more — much more — to follow.

Music News & Reviews with a Queer Ear = Dancing To Architecture™
Dancing To Architecture ©2014 Bill Stella
Login or Signup to comment