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17 min

Best gay albums of 2008

I need to talk about music and what happened this year. I bought fewer albums then ever before, partly because I didn’t have the money and partly because music is so accessible online. There was a lot of downloading going on these last 12 months. The music I did buy I thought about a lot; I wasn’t making impulse purchases at the record store.

Here’s my list of the most important recordings created by artists who address sexuality and queer identity in their music and performance. Of the records I bought this year, these had the greatest impact on me in 2008.

Hercules and Love Affair. Hercules and Love Affair. DFA Records.

This group was formed by NYC artist Andy Butler, a young gay DJ who has worked with Antony. It’s a gay super-group. The album is absolutely beautiful and quite incredible for a debut. The music, a return to disco with full sweeping string arrangements, is exquisitely composed and so much fun to listen to. The group claim Derrick Carter, Kate Bush, Brian Eno, and Arthur Russell as influences. They rework the gay classic Good Life in the song You Belong. I will enjoy the song Blind for years to come; every time I played it, whether people were hearing it for the first time or for the hundredth time, they would freak out and dance. There are hot photos and a great interview in Butt Magazine featuring Andy Butler. I would agree with Pitchfork in calling Blind the song of the year.

$100. Forest of Tears. Blue Fog Records.

$100 are a country band from Toronto whose sound gets back to the raw and real origins of the country music genre. I went to see these guys perform live more than any other artist this year and was never disappointed. The pairing of Ian Russell and Simone Fornow as a duo, or with their full band, is captivating and this genre of music has not seen such a pairing since Johnny Cash and June Carter. Simone is a powerful front-woman who has written thought-provoking lyrics and delivers them with intensity that is unapologetic. Their song Hell’s a Place is the story of two lesbians running for their lives in British Columbia.

It don’t matter if our love is true
Them bigots have it out for girls like me and you
Their morals rain from that G-d up above
And according to him Hell’s the place for our love
Thumbs out of Quesnel through Veder Crossing
Memories harden like the earth beneath this stranger’s tires
They spare us guns of war, then beat us in our homes
Convinced our interlocked legs are fuel for fire.

Yo Majesty. Futuristically Speaking … Never Be Afraid. Domino.

In 2008, Yo Majesty created an irresistible dance-floor gem titled Club Action. Totally infectious and fun, the song is difficult to stand still to. The group is like some mutant evolution of Salt-N-Pepa, or JJ Fad, with elements of Parliament and Booty House. These two rapping dykes from Tampa, Florida are completely on fire. This album bears no shame and addresses sexuality and faith head on — imagine Missy Elliott being open about being a lez. These women are definitely artists to watch in 2009.

Arthur Russell. Love Is Overtaking Me. Audika Records.

Charles Arthur Russell Jr (1952 – 1992) was an American cellist, composer, singer, and disco artist ahead of his time. He recorded so much music in his lifetime and much of it was not released. His boyfriend, who saved all his recordings after he passed away, is now releasing them as interest in Russell’s music is building. There is an excellent Arthur Russell documentary directed by Matt Wolf titled Wild Combination that was featured at the 2008 Inside Out film festival and is now available on DVD. The film explores Russell’s musical obsession and his love for his man. In 2008, Audika Records released Russell’s Love is Overtaking Me, featuring touching and haunting pop songs that will make it clear why his lover has cherished these recordings for so long.

Here are other artists that deserve mention for their work in the 2008.

Final Fantasy, a violin prodigy and a Toronto gay man who won the Polaris prize a few years ago, released two EPs in 2008, Spectrum 14th Century and Plays to Please.

Antony & The Johnsons released a soulful EP titled Another World. His voice is truly one of the best in the world.

Sam Sparro. A young gay man from the UK released the song Black And Gold which was a catchy electro treasure I listened to all year long.

Katie Stelmanis released her debut album, Join Us, at the beginning of 2008 and sang with the hard-cord punk band Fucked Up on their album, Chemistry of Common Life. The young, queer woman of Toronto began touring internationally this year.

I need to give kudos to Crystal Castles who carved out their own sound, a difficult task in 2008 when music seems so explored and charted. 
 
This year saw fey ferry pixie men by the name of MGMT release a psychedelic album that was one of the year’s most fun.

When I was a teen in the ’90s I was really into Portishead and their return is truly welcome in my books. This album is eerie and strange and has a dark psychedelic side to it.

Vivian Girls emerged from Brooklyn, NY and released a 22-minute album. The album was created by three women who claim to be influenced by Nirvana and the Shangri-La’s. The result is so nice on the ears, it’s like music I might have sung along to in the back of my parent’s car — but with a lot more distortion.