Between rock and a gay place
by Gregg Shapiro
Grizzly Bear joins the ranks of TV on the Radio, Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cuties, as another indie-oriented band that achieved an unexpected (although well-deserved) level of media and commercial attention. Driven by the impossibly infectious "Two Weeks," the band's latest album Veckatimest (Warp) peaked at #8 on the Billboard 200-album chart. What makes all of this especially cool in Grizzly Bear's case is that frontman Ed Droste is openly gay. Out classical composer Nico Muhly is responsible for choral and string quartet arrangements on a few tracks. Easily the Brooklyn quartet's most accessible release, Veckatimest veers from CSN/Beach Boys-style harmonies to flat-out chamber-pop exotica over the course of its dozen tracks, safely hugging listeners in its furry grip, and refusing to let go.
"The personification of Ms. Joan Crawford in a rock and roll band," The Joans live up to that claim on their full-length debut album We Are The Joans (thejoansband.com), delivering a set of songs that have a distinctively 1960s sound. Album opener "Mad at the Dirt," with Davy Joans on lead vocals, is an instant classic, making multiple references to Crawford's equally illustrious and tarnished career and personal life. Further musical allusions to Crawford's work include "Berserk" and the truly hilarious "Do the Trog" (with the band taking turns on vocals). Actress Faye Dunaway, another casualty of the Crawford curse, is feted in "Faye Dunaway." Also good for lots of laughs are "Joan World" and "The Girl Next Door" (lead vocal by Jennifer Joans). A band such as this would be incomplete without a theme song, and "We Are The Joans" fills the bill. Of course, the most obvious omission is a cover of Blue Oyster Cult's "Joan Crawford," but perhaps The Joans are saving that for their second album.
Good Asian Drivers are a queer folk trio with a musical sensibility combining elements of jazz, punk and even show tunes (listen to "On the Road with You") with spoken work on their album Drive Away Home (goodasiandrivers.com). This refreshing approach succeeds in getting their message music, which touches on feminism ("For our Daughters"), gender ("Third Gender") and queerness ("Queer Nation"), across without leaving listeners feeling they're being lectured.
Since forming in 2006, the trio Pariah Piranha has kept the riot grrrl and alternative fires burning on albums Feel My Face Noise and Animous Unanimous, tossing in a t
While we're on the subject of trios, Placebo, led by out frontman Brian Molko, first came to our attention in the mid-90s with the song "Nancy Boy" from their self-titled debut disc. More than a dozen years later, Placebo is still at it with Battle for the Sun (Vagrant). You have to dig a little to get to the best tracks at the center of the disc – "Bright Lights," "Speak in Tongues," "The Never-Ending Why," and the bouncy beat of "Julien" – but they're worth it.
It isn't often that a band with a queer affiliation gets the fancy reissue treatment, but Book of Love is one such outfit. Signed to Sire Records in the mid-80s, the band released four albums into the early 90s. Their eponymous debut, Lullaby, Candy Carol and Lovebubble have all been reissued by Noble Rot in expanded editions. Led by out Ted Ottaviano, the electronic quartet's pair of hits from their first album, "Modigliani (Lost in your Eyes)" and the queer "Boy," earned them an abundance of club play and a place in pop-music history. The double-disc reissue features the original self-titled album on one disc and a second disc of live, demo, remixed, instrumental and dub tracks. Although it didn't catch on in the same way, Book of Love's second album Lullaby featured a hot cover of "Tubular Bells" which spilled into the queer-as-"Boy" "Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls." Third album Candy Carol has a distinctive winter-holiday feel to it, while the misleadingly titled Lovebubble doesn't have much love or bubbles, although the cover of Bowie's "Sound and Vision" comes close. All in all, a worthwhile set of reissues to have in your music collection.