The Year’s Best LGBTQ Albums: 31 Releases That Kept 2021 From Being a Total Downer

The Year’s Best LGBTQ Albums: 31 Releases That Kept 2021 From Being a Total Downer

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Another year has nearly come and gone, and while 2021 was a nightmare year for most of us, the music was, well, pretty great. Some of our favorite artists released new albums this year, many of them LGBTQ musicians. (And if it’s LGBTQ artists you’re looking for, be sure to check out my constantly-being-updated encyclopedia here.) Here’s a look back at the year 2021 in LGBTQ music.

Here are 31 of the best LGBTQ music releases of 2021:

1. Man on Man – Man on Man

Roddy Bottum (Faith No More, Imperial Teen) joins forces with his boyfriend Joey Holman for this ’90s slice of alt rock I had no idea I missed this much until it was fed back to me by two supremely confident, sex-positive bears who can slam home a chorus as expertly as they do each other. Their videos are fun and filled with body positive images, not to mention men flirting, kissing, licking and generally using their guitars as the cartoon phalluses they were always meant to be. In other words: hot. (“1983”; “Daddy”;  “Stohner”)

2. Donnie – The Colored Section (Deluxe)

Here is what reissues are for: restoring glory to overlooked gems that were either panned or roundly ignored during their initial release phase. Such is the case with this 2002 soul document from a long-retired Atlanta artist who had the audacity and vision to address sexuality long before Frank Ocean, though Donnie’s groundbreaking The Colored Section doesn’t live in its own self-imposed gay ghetto. In hindsight, Donnie’s old-school approach to soul music was old hat in 2002, but history favors artifacts, and this one sounds like the classics it was so lovingly created to replicate. (“Cloud 9”; “Big Black Buck”; “Beautiful Me”)

3. Lawrence Rothman – Good Morning, America

This L.A.-based nonbinary singer-songwriter makes their Father John Misty move, only Rothman’s not funny or particularly clever with words. But like FJM under all that snark, Rothman has much to reveal about paradigms that haven’t worked in over 50 odd years (“Glory feat. Katie Pruitt)”, the state of our country’s spiritual malaise (“Thrash the West feat. Amanda Shires,” masquerading as a love song), the difficulty and necessity of healing (“The Fix”). It’s monochromatic in its darkness, so the shafts of light that peak through are stunning, offering a glimpse of hope that its title merely suggests.

4. Michael Mayo – Bones

Soulful, jazzy, intimate, honest, unapologetically bi. Though so many soul men in the past were suspected of being a bit “light in the loafers,” here’s one that embraces that lightness and makes it central to his art. He’s a born romantic; his gossamer emotionality is positively buoyant. (“You and You”; “20/20”; “The Way”)

5. Pixel Grip – ARENA

Having scaled the heights of electronic indie pop/dance, these Windy City upstarts get energized to celebrate the beauty of the disco. But be sure to note that such beauty isn’t pristine, and that this dance floor is greasy, sticky, and smeared with all manner of bodily fluids. It’s filthy and — to quote some other hedonistically bent homos — gorgeous.  (“ALPHAPUSSY”; “Demon Chaser feat. MONAE”; “Pursuit”)

6. Fleece – Stunning and Atrocious

These Canadians have morphed quite a bit over the last few records — mostly thanks to personnel changes — and are finally hitting their stride (see our review here). Their alt-leaning indie rock is now decidedly indie pop, and the softer environs suit their songs of squashed gay love, hookups, infatuations. If there are real world, non-love issues addressed herein, I don’t hear them, and I don’t miss them. And neither will you. (“Do You Mind? (Leave the Light On)”; “Love Song for the Haters”; “All My Money”)

7. Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams

Her debut doesn’t reach out and grab you by the collar; it invites you in, offers you a drink, takes your hand, and maybe — once you get to know each other — starts with a nice massage before heading towards the boudoir. Six months later, you have to admit that this new relationship has a level of intimacy deeper than any you’ve previously experienced and that, try as you might to protect your sad, old heart, you’re hopelessly in love. Or something like that.  (“Hope”; “Hurt”; “For Violet”)

8. Rostam – Changephobia

This mid-year release is still one of 2021’s best (read our review here). If anything, the unassuming genius at the center of these mature 11 snapshots has grown in stature since June, and it’s comforting that the artist — who could probably live off his Vampire Weekend royalties for the rest of his life — trusts his impeccable musical instincts enough to let these songs breathe and expand on their own. (“From the Back of a Cab”; “These Kids We Knew”; “Changephobia”)

9. Lil Nas X – Montero

Having taken the charts by storm with what could easily have turned out to be a one-hit wonder, the “Old Town Road” wunderkind turns the gay up to infinity and beyond, makes social media his booty call bitch, and takes over the world as the pop star he always was even when he was hanging out with Miley’s dad.  Truth be told, I still think of him more as a celebrity construct than an artist, but that’s the same criticism Madonna had to deal with while she was transforming the pop landscape one glorious radio tune after the next, and Mr. X — Montero to his family — is doing the same thing now. (“Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”; “Industry Baby”; “That’s What I Want”)

10. Villagers – Fever Dream

The fifth album by Conor J. O’Brien’s indie outfit is a strange and ultimately wondrous affair, steeped in choral flourishes and muzak and the ornate folk melodies he’s been writing since he was a wee lad in 2010. Now with sexy flecks of gray hair as he approaches his middle ages, his music is more contemplative, his faith more important if no less fraught for a gay man to reconcile, and his overall positivity more hard-fought than it should ever have to be. (“So Simpatico”; “Circles in the Firing Line”; “The First Day”)

11. Jordy – Mind Games

Emo pop, sex crazed, middle-of-the-road teen/young adult drama radio fodder. He’s 23, so it makes sense that the only struggle he knows anything about is how to get into that hot lifeguard’s trunks (“If He’s In Your Bed”) or how to get that ex to erase his dick picks (“Delete Me”). And to prove he’s just like everybody else, he’d give away all that freedom to fuck around for “the one” (“I Just Wanna Be Loved”).  Yeah, right.

12. She Drew The Gun – Behave Myself

Louisa Roach and her bandmates use their muscular alt rock in the service of political change, though don’t let that keep you off.  While they make no bones about their idealism and activism, it’s the motorik rhythms and spiky synths that make them a party worth joining.  (“Behave Yourself”; “Class War”; “Cut Me Down”)

13. Marcus Whale – The Hunger

Horror has always been a haven for queer kids. The outsized otherness of supernatural creatures or the untapped erotic longings of the undead are litmus tests upon which we project our own feelings of inadequacy, desire, isolation, etc. Inspired by Tony Scott’s gauzy Goth perfume commercial The Hunger (as well as HBO’s True Blood), the Australian Whale applies his sparse electronic indie thing to a tale of a vampire and his familiar that’s all about the delights and downfalls of bottomless temptations.  (“Two Holes”; “Impossible”; “Familiar”)

14. Serpentwithfeet – Deacon

Josiah Wise’s sophomore release as serpetwithfeet is no slump; in fact, it meshes his unbridled gospel-influenced experimentalism with the grooves and tropes of modern electronic rhythm and blues to create a new, gay template of “quiet storm” crooning, love, and eroticism.  (“Same Size Shoe”; “Fellowship”; “Heart Storm with NAO”)

15. Oscar and the Wolf – The Shimmer

On his third album as Oscar and the Wolf, Belgian Max Colombie infuses his pleasing indie pop with longing, sensuality, and the resultant heartbreak of messy human relationships. His casual androgyny is easy on the eyes. And though his songs scan as modest, don’t mistake them for slight. (“James”; “Oliver”; “Livestream”)

16. Jon Campbell – Wolfen

There’s no shortage of queer indie folk singer-songwriters (even if that description itself is reductive as fuck), and we will crow about every last good one out there. Campbell is a U.S.-born, Berlin-based artist running his own label (and no doubt funding it with his work in the visual arts). There’s more than enough drama in these eight acoustic tracks across a brief 27-minute running time that Campbell never oversells a lyric or punches up an arrangement. His low-key confidence is appealing as is his interesting blend of The Hidden Cameras and Joni Mitchell. (“Metropolitan”; “Faggot”; “Haunted”)

17. The Goon Sax – Mirror II

Three albums in, and these primitive indie kids from down under expand and refine their sound, allowing all three members to shine on their own songs and, even better, in collaboration on each other’s. While I understand Louis Foster’s exasperation with the comparisons to his father’s former band The Go-Betweens, it’s impossible to escape lineage (just ask Julian Lennon). Fact is that the constant reminders of his parentage will abate with time. Leaning into current trends in indie pop will help, as well as whatever the stylists are doing with these three still very young performers. A few years ago, they were fresh-faced kids trying to remember simple chord sequences. Now they’re nascent indie stars feeling their power and owning their sensuality by being their own (hot) selves. (“In the Stone”; “Psychic”; “Desire”)

18. Fancy Hagood – Southern Curiosity

Meeting with some record company resistance when he went under the moniker Who Is Fancy?, this Southern queen embraces his inner everything on this surprisingly resonant and traditional Southern pop release. If he sounds a bit like Elton John back in the days when John and Bernie Taupin were plumbing the depths of the outlaw mythos of the American Southwest, that’s just part of his lineage, along with the rollicking blues grooves of say, The Black Crowes or the high gloss balladry of his former tour mate Ariana Grande. And, on the title track, when he plainly tells some judgmental person who questions his lifestyle “don’t give a damn what you think about me,” he spits it out with a shot of soul and a tone that lets you know: I might be a gentleman, but, you know, motherfucker, don’t tread on me. (“Southern Curiosity”; “Good Man”; “The Same Thing”)

19. Loraine James – Reflection

On her third full length, the queer London producer is just as hyper-stylized as ever — like Sophie and Arca, she doesn’t just throw shapes, she molds new ones from scratch — yet also more accessible than ever before. Nothing here is straightforward. Immerse within it, though, and before you know it James’ rhythms and glitches and guest vocalists and spacious minimalism or overstuffed maximalism start to sound less like the disco of the future and the soundtrack to dancefloors now.  (“Running Like That feat. Eden Samara”; “On the Lake Outside feat. Baths”; “Simple Stuff”)

20. of Montreal – I Feel Safe with You, Trash

The genderfuck that started way back in 1996 continues here through their 17th release, I Feel Safe with You, Trash. There’s still something thrilling about Kevin Barnes’ everything plus the kitchen sink and a few other giant pieces of hardware approach to a pop song.  Regardless of the genre — a bit of punk here, a dance groove there, etc. — you’ll find a recognizable hook and, most likely, a chorus that cajoles a violent and/or joyous scream along. (“Queer As Love”; “Extract the Masculine Germ from Remote Memory”)

21. Lava LaRue – Butter-Fly

It starts with an homage to old school soul, and that’s as traditional as this queer West London rapper’s latest EP gets. There’s no fat on these five tracks; just hooks and mood and flirtation and empowerment.  Can’t wait for her next full length. (“Magpie”; “Goofy Hearts Club”)

22. Arca – Kick ii-iiiii

The beauty of Arca is her unbridled ambition. Kick i, released in 2020, was the most pop record of her underground career, but why stop at one release when you have four more in the can?  True, more than any of her famous collaborators, she might really need an editor at this point; and Kick iiiii is more ambient background doodles than songs. But there’s a consistency here that shows her growth as a writer/producer. And whether she wants to be or not, in the absence of SOPHIE (R.I.P.), she’s the most exciting presence on the electronic music scene. (“Bruja”; “Queer feat. Planningtorock”; “Born Yesterday feat. Sia”)

23. Foxing – Draw Down the Moon

Missouri indie rockers’ personal best, with the emphasis very much on the personal here. (“Draw Down the Moon”; “Speak with the Dead feat. WHY?”)

24. Ethel Cain – Inbred

So far, this young transgender artist has only released a handful of EPs, but a buzz is growing around their Lana Del Rey gothic gospel vibe and intensive subject matter.  (“God’s Country feat. Wicca Phase Springs Eternal”; “Crush”)

25. Price – Sequences (True Sentiments)

Before I even perused the name of the songs, I started to think of this Brazilian-born artist’s soothing indie pop as baroque, and, lo and behold, the first song on Mathias Rinngenberg’s late year release is “Baroque Garage,” which kind of sums him up and kind of doesn’t. This is sad and soulful, gentle and turbulent, experimental and accessible: what you might hear in a gay cabaret on another planet. (“Under His Breath”; “2022”)

26. John Grant – Boy from Michigan

This American expatriate songwriter’s fifth solo release is more, or less, of the same. There’s a pleasant balance between his singer-songwriter roots and his electronic flourishes here. He’s a natural born storyteller and, sometimes, a bit of a clown. I love him so much it pains me that I find this his least attractive record — the tunes are just way too long and a bit shapeless — but he’s one of our brightest lights, nonetheless. (“Boy from Michigan”; “Billy”)

27. Mykki Blanco – Broken Hearts and Beauty Sleep

Her second full length release is softer and less combative than her debut, which was necessary to be heard above the homophobic caterwaul of rap music. Yet having spent her invective being seen, she’s opened up the creative process here to include more collaborations and introspection. The world knows this transgender HIV+ artist has had her struggles. Surviving — and thriving — is her best revenge. (“It’s Not My Choice feat. Blood Orange”; “Free Ride”)

28. Bachelor – Doomin’ Sun

Jay Som and Ellen Kempner (Palehound) streamline their indie rock sounds on this punchy, playful debut. (“Back of My Hand”; “Stay in the Car”)

29. Delilah Montagu – BABY

Sapphic U.K. pop that’s equal parts big hooks and big heart. (“BABY”; “Lost Keys”)

30. Claud – Super Monster

Non-binary indie pop; mellow and self-possessed. (“Soft Spot”; “Guard Down”)

31. Elton John – The Lockdown Sessions

No one would have blamed him for resting on his laurels for the remainder of his always colorful life but give it up to Reg for still caring enough about the pop music he made into an indelible part of our lives for four decades plus to actually, you know, create some again. His generous nature and fanboy love of talent allows him to share the stage here with plenty of fellow travelers both fresh and established. (Elton John, Young Thug, Nicki Minaj:  “Always Love You”; Rina Sawayama, Elton John:  “Chosen Family:”; Lil Nas X feat. Elton John: “One of Us”)

What was your favorite album of 2021?

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