The Key’s Year-End Mania: Rob Huff’s favorite queer music moments of 2017

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Perfume Genius
Perfume Genius | photo by Ebru Yildiz | courtesy of the artist

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2017 incredible. Today, Key contributing writer Rob Huff reflects on five musical moments that offered solace and inspired strength in the LGBTQ community.

5. Austra’s Future Politics presented a path forward

There’s no nice way to put it. This year sucked. It started bleak, and despite moments of mild respite here and there, managed to end even bleaker. The idea of a future worth inhabiting after the onslaught that was 2017 can still seem laughable. It was downright unfathomable on January 20th when the current administration took control and blew open a gaping political Hellmouth.

And yet, through sheer serendipity, the new album from queer synth-popera artist Katie Stelmanis arrived on that same day. Originally written in the aftermath of personal turmoil, Future Politics doubled as a balm for the doom and gloom that cloaked the country in the wake of an election year where the personal arguably became more political than ever. Songs like the softly pummeling title track and the pulsing “Utopia” – immaculately rendered on record and rivetingly performed at Union Transfer just a week later – stuck with me throughout 2017’s tumultuous twelve months, making the idea of any future at all beyond then, let alone one where anyone “other” gets to have a say, feel just a little more possible.

4. Alison Moyet transfixed at The Trocadero

Speaking of Other, the latest album from the former Yazoo frontwoman was one of the year’s most pleasant musical surprises. Alternately elegiac and euphoric, it was an album that nodded not only to acknowledging uniqueness or “otherness”, but embracing it, both in ourselves and each other. That kind of sentiment is part of why Moyet has enjoyed a long life as an LGBTQ icon. It’s also what made her September Philadelphia performance, part of her first world tour in 30 years, such an exhilarating experience.

Running the gamut from her recent (excellent) run of albums all of the way back through her Yazoo highlights, Moyet was in top form, celebrating her expansive catalogue as well as her mostly queer fans’ relationship with it. When it came time to introduce her encore of “The Rarest Birds” from the new album, Moyet was earnest and thoughtful in describing her long kinship with the community that had come out to see her as well her continued support and gratitude for it. The show as a whole felt vibrant, vulnerable, and ultimately validating for all in attendance.

3. The auspicious ascent of Arca.

Alejandro Ghersi had already established a well-earned reputation as one of our most exciting electronic producers, working on high-profile releases from Kanye West and Björk. That reputation and resume continued to flourish in 2017, with Arca continuing to reach new heights with the latter as their collaborations matured into a full-fledged partnership on her album Utopia and lending his talents to some of the highlights of Kelela’s rapturously received debut album.

That work alone would have amounted to a pretty good year, creatively speaking. However, Ghersi’s greatest achievement this year may have been his own ethereal, eponymous album. Introducing his angelic vocals into his otherworldly soundscapes made them sound intimate as well as intense. Meanwhile, his Spanish sung lyrics brought his queer identity to the forefront of his music more than ever, often in beautifully button pushing ways. Read the translated lyrics to his single “Desafio” for the best example. Said button pushing also carried over into his mesmerizing music videos (again, see “Desafio”) and powerful, provocative live performances (come to Philly Alejandro!). In a year where many young queer kids were afraid that their identities would be criminalized, Arca’s new in-your-face aesthetic felt downright heroic.

2. Perfume Genius leveled up. Again.

Mike Hadreas already went the confrontational route three years ago with his third Perfume Genius album, Too Bright. He openly mocked people’s perception of him and his queerness as some kind of threat, and in turn threatened to become the grotesque caricature everyone always feared or wanted him to be. “No family is safe when I sashay” he declared on what’s already sure to go down as his most iconic song.

It would have been easy, expected even, to continue with confrontation for this year’s follow up. Instead, Hadreas went celebratory and conciliatory. No Shape found Hadreas transcending himself and his sound, blending baroque pop, Kate Bush escapism, and even quiet storm to portray the comforts and conflicts inherent in a long-term queer relationship. It also showed how you need to navigate hard truths and tribulations with and within each other in order to best present yourselves to a world that would wish you and yours harm. On song of the year contender “Slip Away,” he promised “they’ll never break the shape we take,” alluding to a world where you can command space for yourself with confidence.

Hadreas continued to build on these themes as well as his own evolution as a live performer at Union Transfer this year, where he seemed to literally burst out of a palazzo pantsuit while he gyrated to his new numbers, covered Mary Margaret O’Hara, and of course joined his partner Alan on piano for some of his canon classics. Onstage and on record, Hadreas remained resolute in taking up the space that was rightfully his, and hopefully made a lot more people feel more confident to take theirs.

1. The triumphant return of Fever Ray

Karin Dreijer’s story seemed to come to a conclusion with the dissolution of her group The Knife, which itself followed the release of their epic Shaking the Habitual. That album deconstructed socio-political norms as well as the idea of what an album from The Knife could and should sound like. Instead, a new chapter of her solo project Fever Ray was written and surprise released in October. Plunge is my personal album of the year and a powerful portrayal of what it’s like to experience and explore queer desire in a society that often seeks to erase it.

Love may have won a few years back, but Karin made clear on this album that love isn’t enough. Lust is just as vital an itch to scratch for the newly out and proud queer iconoclast, and throughout Plunge’s electrifying eleven tracks, it sounded like scratching that itch isn’t any easier in her neck of the woods than it is in ours. In both cases, our respective countries have made it “hard to fuck.” As we neared the end of a year where simply being ourselves, let alone being with whom we wanted, was starting to feel even harder, Plunge’s defiance and dynamism served as a refreshing reminder that realizing your truest self and the wants and needs that come with it can often be the best revenge.

Despite what people on both sides may like to say, sexual politics are and will forever be an important part of the discourse. Dreijer’s embodiment of that ethos makes Plunge the first truly great political album of the new world disorder and a musical manifesto many a queer and “other” folk can embrace.

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