Connect with us

Music & Concerts

Years & Years, Steve Grand return with stellar sophomore efforts

In vastly disparate ways, out singers use sexual candor to maximum effect

Published

on

out queer artists, gay news, Washington Blade

Olly Alexander, the British Years & Years frontman, uses religious imagery to great effect on his band’s new album. (Photo by Ed Cooke)

Out queer artists remain the exception in 2018. But the number who have come out or who are open about their sexuality continues to grow: Singers like Frank Ocean, Troye Sivan, Hayley Kiyoko, Janelle Monáe, Sam Smith and Brendon Urie are good examples of how queerness plays out on mainstream pop charts. But artists on the periphery of mainstream American pop rarely get the attention given to their Top 40 counterparts. 

Two new albums make the less mainstream queer artists hard to ignore: British band Years & Years and American singer Steve Grand are out with sophomore albums that grapple with sexuality in prominent, public ways — and both comfortably use male pronouns to refer to a love interests, something of a rarity even for queer artists. 

Years & Years, whose debut album “Communion” (2015) made it to No. 1 Billboard spot in the U.K., released a short film to accompany its new dance pop record “Palo Santo.” And it has much in common with Janelle Monáe’s recent “Dirty Computer,” which imagines a dystopian future where sexual nonconformity is controlled and repressed. “Palo Santo” envisions a futuristic city where humans serve as cabaret-style entertainment for unfeeling androids. 

In the short film, Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander performs in the android-controlled cabaret. Complete with strip teases and elaborate choreography, the short film portrays humans forced into the seemingly impossible task of making the nonhuman androids feel emotion. The not-so-veiled critique of our over-connected culture comes through clearly and one can’t help but wonder if Alexander wrote parts of the album during a “Black Mirror” binge.

Lyrically, Years & Years navigates this sci-fi universe by way of religious language. “Sanctify,” the album’s lead single, is an up-tempo, sensual track with relatively sparse instrumentation  the verses rely heavily on percussion. The layered harmonies and vocal trills are reminiscent of early 2000s boybands like ‘NSYNC. But there’s something else at play, a subversive sensuality filtered through religious vocabulary. As Alexander croons sweetly in the chorus, “Sanctify my body with pain/sanctify the love that you crave.” 

This interesting — to say the least — marriage of religious expressions and queer sexuality occurs over and over throughout the album. In “Hallelujah,” an upbeat dance track, he ties the word to the body of a lover: “Until our bodies are singing hallelujah.” The repurposing of religious verbiage is something of a band trademark: “Communion” was not a haphazard choice of title for their debut album. And many of the tracks on “Palo Santo” reflect this tendency, with titles such as “Sanctify,” “Hallelujah” and “Preacher.” Alexander is clearly invested in pushing lyrical boundaries.

The catchiest track on the album is “If You’re Over Me,” a cheery dance track with a bouncy synth hook. Consequently, it’s the song Alexander performs at the cabaret in the short film. The lyrics address familiar breakup themes: “Well you should set me free/baby if you’re over me.” But the song is irresistibly danceable and has already been performing well on the charts, arriving at No. 6 on the Billboard Official U.K. Singles Chart.

But the album isn’t all dance. As with the “Communion,” “Palo Santo” shows a great deal of variety. The title track plays with various rhythms and is piano driven. In “Here,” the most subdued track on the album, Alexander relies on his upper register and layered harmonies to create a haunting, ethereal sound. The simplicity of the lyrics add to the effect: the chorus is just a simple repetition of the phrase “I’m not here.”

“Palo Santo” stands out not only for its high production values — the costumes and choreography  but also for its seamless flow. Each track is meticulously placed. The album’s overall sound and Alexander’s vocals are at times reminiscent of Justin Timberlake’s on “FutureSex/LoveSounds” (2006). And it stands as a reminder that queer artists need not sacrifice musical quality for a strong concept. 

If Years & Years trends continental, edgy and futuristic, Steve Grand is a fully homegrown product. Following the success of his 2015 album “All American Boy,” the singer from suburban Illinois has been a fixture of the gay community, regularly performing at summer concerts in Provincetown and at Pride festivals, and relishing the opportunity to sing in his underwear  almost as much as his enthusiastic fans.

Much like his previous album, “Not the End of Me” bounces between piano-driven pop/rock and country. But the album cover shows an unsmiling, bearded Grand, who seems ready to show a deeper part of himself. Writing as a gay man, the songs deal with relationships, hook-up culture and cheating.

There are many things to like about Grand’s new album. His lyrics are wonderfully conversational and he’s an excellent storyteller. His songs have a refreshing down-to-earth quality. Though the reverb is often overdone and he’s sometimes more than a little cheesy, there is something almost irresistible and believable about Grand’s music. 

The single “Walking” is a synthesizer-heavy dance track. It’s a fun, catchy song that is likely to find its way into nightclubs. It comes closest to the youthful, carefree feeling of songs like “Better Off” and “All-American Boy” from the previous album.

“Ain’t It Something” has the feel of Jason Mraz song, a summer romance with a beach vibe. As Grand charmingly puts it, “You walked in with that grin, as if proud of the job you did/Hiding that southern accent, but I know a ‘good-ole’ boy’ when I see him.”

But Grand is at his best when he’s behind the piano. And the more reflective material on “Not the End of Me” gives him the chance to do just that, particularly on tracks “Don’t Let the Light In,” “Anti Hero,” “All I Want” and “Can’t Go Back.”

Years & Years and Steve Grand exemplify queer artists outside of the mainstream who are unafraid to make sexuality a central theme of their music. And in all likelihood, they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Out queer artists, gay news, Washington Blade

Steve Grand (Photo courtesy of Grand)

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Music & Concerts

Greyson Chance releases ‘Trophies’ in time for Pride

Chart-topping singer-songwriter pushes envelope on musical boundaries

Published

on

Greyson Chance (Photo by Broderick Bauman)

As the tall slender dark-haired young musician prepares for a sound check on stage preparing for his Oklahoma City Pride debut, back in Los Angeles his team released his highly anticipated new album via all digital and streaming platforms.

Greyson Chance, a critically acclaimed, chart-topping and singer-songwriter, with this new album Trophies- a follow up to his 2019’s critically praised ‘portraits’ EP, continues to display sharp writing chops, as well as his ability to push the envelope on his own musical boundaries.

From his recently released, dance-inspired hit “Hellboy” to his latest uplifting anthem “Nobody,” to the beautifully arranged, emotion-provoking ballad “Violet,” the piano aficionado openly takes listeners on a tour of his life. 

Friday is also the day Chance gets back on the road for his Trophies World Tour, starting in his hometown with the headlining spot at Oklahoma City’s Pride Festival.  Additional summer dates include shows in major cities across North America, as well as, European and South American dates to follow in the fall and winter of this year.

Chance will also embark on a second round of North American dates set for January 2022; full tour schedule below for reference.

TROPHIES releases after a long-awaited break for Chance. He last released his current single and dance-inspired anthem “Hellboy” after a strong slate of single releases through the pandemic, including well-received titles “Boots,” “Dancing Next To Me,” the revealing “Bad to Myself,” in which Chance opened up about his battle with an eating disorder, and this past January’s “Holy Feeling.”  Chance’s last EP was 2019’s critically acclaimed portraits, which to date has accumulated over 40 million streams, and topped #5 on iTunes’ Pop Charts, #1 on Apple’s Music Breaking Pop Playlist, and #3 on Apple Music’s Best of the Week Playlist upon its release. A portraits Word Tour followed that included 50+ sold out dates in North America, Europe, SE Asia, and China.

TROPHIES is available now on all streaming platforms. TROPHIES North American tour dates:

July 07 – Tampa – Crowbar

July 08 – Orlando – The Social

July 09 – Atlanta-  Masquerade

July 10 – Charlotte – Neighborhood Theatre

July 15 – Richmond – Canal Club

July 16 – Washington DC – Union Stage

July 17 – Nashville – The High Watt

July 23 – Indianapolis  – The Irving Theatre 

July 24 – Detroit – Magic Stick

July 25 – Grand Rapids – The Stache at Intersection 

July 29 – Des Moines – xBK Live

July 30 – Milwaukee – Miramar Theatre

July 31 – Minneapolis – Studio B – Skyway Theatre

August 4 – Chicago – Lincoln Hall

August 5 – Lawrence – The Bottleneck 

August 6 – Austin – The Parish

August 7 – Dallas – Trees

August 11 – El Paso – Ricky D’s

August 12 – Phoenix – Crescent Ballroom

August 13 – Salt Lake City – The Complex

August 14 – Denver – The Bluebird

Continue Reading

Arts & Entertainment

Demi Lovato comes out as gender non-binary in Twitter announcement

In 2017 Lovato had invited Danica Roem, the 1st openly trans lawmaker in Virginia to the American Music Awards to speak out against bullying

Published

on

Photo by Kathclick BIGSTOCK

STUDIO CITY – In an announcement Wednesday, two time Grammy nominee, actor and singer-songwriter Demi Lovato revealed that they are identifying as gender non-binary. Taking to their Twitter account, the 28 year-old Lovato said; “The past year and a half, I’ve been doing some healing and self-reflective work. And through this work, I’ve had this revelation that I identify as non-binary,” they said in the video. “With that said, I’ll officially be changing my pronouns to they/them.”

They went on to note, “I feel this best represents the fluidity I feel in my gender expression and allows me to feel most authentic and true to the person I both know I am and am still discovering.”

 

They continued in the thread adding; ” I’m doing this for those out there that haven’t been able to share who they truly are with their loved ones. Please keep living in your truths & know I am sending so much love your way xox”

Lovato also expressed gratitude to the various LGBTQ advocacy groups for their support; “Thank you for your love & support today. Here are a few great organizations and leaders who actively offer education and support:”@glaad, @HRC. @TrevorProject, @LALGBTCenter, @alokvmenon, @mattxiv, @them.

In November of 2017, Lovato invited Virginia Democratic State Delegate Danica Roem, the first openly transgender person seated in a state legislature, to walk the American Music Awards red carpet with them to speak out against bullying. Lovato and Roem were brought together as part of GLAAD’s Together initiative, a campaign for all marginalized communities to stand together.

Continue Reading

Music & Concerts

May pop-up performance features women composers

Whitman-Walker Health and the Goethe-Institut present ‘Kept Under Glass’

Published

on

Kept Under Glass, gay news, Washington Blade

(Image via ‘Kept Under Glass: Unheard Women’s Voices’ Facebook event page)

Whitman-Walker Health (1701 14th St., N.W.) and the Goethe-Institut present “Kept Under Glass: Unheard Women’s Voices,” a multimedia street concert, May 5-6 on the corner of 14th and R Streets.

This free event features songs about love and a longing for connection by rarely heard Austian and German women composers, including medieval chants, classical opera and early 20th century works.

The four performances will take place over the course of two evenings at Whitman-Walker’s new cultural center, The Corner at Whitman-Walker. Performances will last 30 minutes while three performers, each in their own window, sings to sidewalk audiences on the other side of the glass.

Event times and other information is available on the event’s Facebook page.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular