2017 in Review: These Are the Year’s 20 Best Albums by LGBTQ Artists
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2017 has been a year of fantastic music across all genres. So it’s an honor to be able to put together a year’s end list of 20 amazing LGBTQ albums.
With apologies to Sam Smith and The xx (which didn’t make the cut), here is our ranked list:
1. Baths – Romaplasm
Depending on my mood, any item in the top ten could live in this number one slot. In all honesty, I’ve listened to The Drums more than any other artist this year, and both the Beth Ditto release and Morrissey’s latest are in heavy rotation. So why Baths, then? More than anything, it’s down to the uniqueness of vision of Will Wiesenfeld’s electropop project, which I previously spoke about at length. And consider it a vote of confidence for an artist whom I’d love to see have a larger voice on the international stage.
2. Lawrence Rothman – The Book of Law
This genderfluid singer-songwriter’s debut should be more fragmentary than it is, as it arrived with attendant videos performed by nine separate alter-egos. And while the alter-egos are diverse, sonically the record coheres because of Rothman’s distinctive voice. (In other words, they all sound like Rothman — the Alters, as they are called, don’t sing in their own style.) There’s a lot of high drama here — from “Jordan (feat. Kristin Kontrol)” to “Wolves Still Cry” to the anthemic “Ain’t Afraid of Dying (feat. Marissa Nadler)” — that all add up to Gothic pop. Not Goth rock, though the undead would certainly find much to admire here.
3. Wrabel – We Could Be Beautiful
Stephen Wrabel’s talent is protean. How else does an EP make a year-end best-of list? The five songs included here — especially the minor hit “11 Blocks” and the skittering gospel electro of “Bloodstain” — will be highlights on his forthcoming debut, as will the standalone track, “The Village,” released in response to the administration’s removal of protections for trans kids in public schools. And when I caught him recently, playing these songs (and others) without a band — just the man at his piano — the strength of his voice and his unfettered emotionalism connected with an audience of millennials, some of whom had no idea who he was; many of whom sang along to every word, in a way I haven’t seen since Sam Smith played his pre-release shows before he took off into the stratosphere. Wrabel may well be our next superstar.
4. Nona Hendryx & Gary Lucas – The World of Captain Beefheart
What elder statesman Nona Hendryx (of Labelle and solo fame) does with these covers of Captain Beefheart tunes, alongside Beefheart’s extraordinarily tensile guitarist Gary Lucas, isn’t reinterpret them so much as breathe new life into them. Hendryx doesn’t smooth Beeheart’s jagged edges — she embraces them and makes them her own while retaining the eccentric pulse of the originals. I loved Beefheart’s howling mewl (or was it a mewling howl?) and his unkempt lyricism while also understanding how hard it was to take for most listeners. So if Hendryx’s warmer voice can bring neophytes into the fold with her bluesy take on “Sun Zoom Spark” or wring out the pathos of “My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains,” then all is right with the world. (Listen to the entire record here.)
5. Beth Ditto – Fake Sugar
I must not have been in a pop-loving mood when Ditto’s debut solo release came out in June, because I just wasn’t feeling it. But prolonged (and recent) exposure to “We Could Run” set me straight, so to speak, about the pleasures of The Gossip’s formidable frontwoman as she steps out on her own. If this tune had come out in the 1980s by — let’s just say Stevie Nicks — it would have been a world-beater. So I have no idea why it hasn’t been better received. And there are other great tunes throughout, including the glam “Oo La La” and the Southern grit of “Fire.” Don’t make the same mistake I did. Seek it out now.
6. Morrissey – Low in High School
His recent interviews have made it tough to defend him (the latest being his defense of Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein), so I’m glad that it may only be his politics that are tone deaf. Because his latest solo release is one of his best (check out our review here). From “My Love, I’d Do Anything for You” to “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage” to the glorious cabaret ballad “In Your Lap,” he’s at the top of his game.
7. The Drums – Abysmal Thoughts
Jonathan Pierce may never get the respect his indie band The Drums might have received had they come up during a different place and time (the late ’80s/early ’90s), but his project is passionately loved by a very vocal (and young) cult. His fourth record is also his best, though the surf-rock template hasn’t changed much from the beginning. Still, “Blood Under My Belt,” “I’ll Fight for Your Life” and “Heart Basel” are jumpy earworms that haven’t lost any luster after many, many rotations.
8. Arca – Arca
Between his triumphs working with Björk, Alejandro Ghersi released his third and most accessible work, the eponymous Arca. That’s not to say he’s suddenly gone mainstream, only that his arty electronics are making inroads along the mainstream’s edges. (“Anoche,” “Desafío,” “Reverie“)
9. St. Vincent – Masseduction
It’s strange to hear this being talked up as Annie Clark’s pop record, though I guess that’s what happens when you have Jack Antonoff listed as a producer. Still, you’d hardly mistake these songs for Lorde or Taylor Swift (to name two of Antonoff’s recent clients). And that’s a good thing. (“Los Ageless,” “Pills”)
10. Rostam – Half-Light
His solo debut is as artsy and expansive as you’d expect from a former member of Vampire Weekend, but also honest and emotionally direct. He stays true to who he is, which is a bohemian product of open-minded, liberal parents of Iranian heritage who pays homage as much to his past as to his present as a gay man. (“Gwan,” “Wood”)
11. Jen Cloher – Jen Cloher
Active since 2005, this Australian performer escaped my notice until I read that she’s married to Courtney Barnett. So, yeah, my bad, and thanks Courtney. And, right, there are parallels — a conversational cadence to the songs, the alt-rock bent of the sound, lots of guitars. In other words, right in my wheelhouse. (“Regional Echo,” “Analysis Paralysis”)
12. Syd – Fin
13. Trevor James Tillery – Together. Alone
This Indiana-born and Phoenix-raised songwriter made his bona fides in an indie rock band until going solo. His debut of cinematic electronics, sweetly keening vocals and sharp, soul-drenched songs position him as the electropop little brother to Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver. (“Fire with Fire,” “In Your Atmosphere”)
14. Austra – Future Politics
The Canadian quartet’s third full-length bridges the gap between pretentious and saccharine with an electropop record that’s as political as it is demonstrative; often on the same song. (“Future Politics,” “Utopia”)
15. Aye Nako – Silver Haze
16. Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins
I miss when they were more unhinged and experimental but must acknowledge they know their way around a classic rock song (at least, as that’s defined in this century). And that Ed Droste (the gay one) and Daniel Rossen and Christopher Bear and Chris Taylor do sing spectacularly pretty. (“Mourning Sound,” “Losing All Sense”)
17. Perfume Genius – No Shape
18. Goldfrapp – Silver Eye
2008’s The Seventh Tree remains my favorite Goldfrapp album, but this year’s release is a reminder that they not only know how to compose whip-smart electro, they practically invented it. (“Systemagic,” “Anymore”)
19. The Magnetic Fields – 50 Song Memoir
Not since 1999’s 69 Love Songs has Stephin Merritt put his talents to such an airtight collection as here, proving once again that concepts are his raison d’être. (“’92 Weird Diseases”, “’68 A Cat Called Dionysus”)
20. Superfruit – Future Friends
I have friends who absolutely hate this record, but I think Mitch Grassi and Scott Hoying of Pentatonix bring us the kind of fun that pop has never had enough of, and the extra gay content isn’t just a selling point here but a necessity in our current era. (“Imaginary Parties,” “Keep Me Coming”)
What were your favorite LGBTQ albums of 2017? Sound off in the comments.