One of music’s most hyped acts of 2012, Perfume Genius has been getting tons of attention over the past few months, not only because he’s got a fantastic new album out, Put Your Back N 2 It, but because he and his label have fought a very public battle with YouTube over a relatively tame music video in which the artist cuddles with a (mostly clothed) porn star. Rallying gay rights activists, music bloggers, and even Michael Stipe to his cause, he has brought queer issues to the forefront of indie rock — a rare accomplishment, despite the fact that there’s no shortage of LGBT artists whose music falls into that ill-defined category.
While music fans are probably already familiar with the big names — Antony Hegarty, Beth Ditto of The Gossip, Scissor Sisters, Stephin Merrit of The Magnetic Fields, Tegan and Sara, Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste, Kele Okereke of Bloc Party, Carrie Brownstein — we’re celebrating Perfume Genius’ new album by rounding up a few less well-known queer indie rockers who deserve your attention. Check out our picks after the jump, and add your own in the comments.
Fans of Antony and the Johnsons need to discover Perfume Genius (aka Mike Hadreas) ASAP. His introspective ballads can be intimate and grand at once, demanding our full attention and threatening to move us to tears. While his debut, 2010’s Learning, was a deeply troubled account of a rough, isolated period in Hadreas’ life, Put Your Back N 2 It addresses many of the same dark subjects from a place of growth and even grace. But the best thing about Perfume Genius is that, two albums in, he seems to just be finding his voice and audience. We can’t wait to hear what the next record brings.
A late but welcome addition to Le Tigre in the early aughts, boyish JD Samson was always the most enthusiastic dancer at the trio’s performances. So it makes sense that the charmingly mustachioed musician has gone on to front MEN, a retro-dance band and art collective that’s all about feminism, queer rights, and class-conscious social critique. That may all sound fairly heavy, but the greatest thing about Samson is her ability to balance political lyrics with irresistible beats. MEN have just dropped a new EP, Next; you can hear the title track at Bust.
One of indie rock’s most staggeringly talented one-man bands, Patrick Wolf isn’t just a multi-instrumentalist — he’s also capable of producing great music in just about any genre or mood. Since his 2003 debut, released when Wolf was only 20, he’s made Irish folk-flavored albums, flashy records full of bouncy production numbers (like “The Magic Position,” above), and even dark, S&M-themed electronic pop. His most recent full-length, Lupercalia, is named for and takes atmospheric cues from a pagan fertility festival that is a somewhat wilder forerunner of Valentine’s Day. There’s no wrong place to dip into his discography — just start with whatever period interests you, and see if you don’t end up downloading everything he’s ever done.
Another genre-hopping multi-instrumentalist, Kaki King is an incredibly accomplished musician. Best known for her skills on a variety of guitar types, she’s masterful at the fret-tapping technique that has become Marnie Stern’s trademark, but can also rock out multiple tunings and flamenco flourishes. Her career has been defined by constant transformation, with King performing solo and fronting a band, drifting from acoustic instrumentals to post-rock soundscapes and back again. And if that isn’t impressive enough for you, she also does film and TV scores.
After several years as Final Fantasy, Canadian musician and Polaris Music Prize winner Owen Pallett retired the moniker and began recording under his own name before the release of his most recent album, 2010’s Heartland. A singer, violinist, and keyboard player, he’s especially fond of loop pedals — but Pallett’s technical skills never overshadow the emotional, narrative feel of his intricate pop songs. His is the kind of music that sounds pleasant at first listen, but deepens and complexifies when you stop to notice the lyrics.
Girls frontman Christopher Owens has gotten at least as much press for growing up in a cult as for his music — which is predictable, if not entirely fair. Over the course of two fantastic albums, Girls have refined a style that combines pop and noise, mixing hints of ’50s-style rock crooning with twisted-metal guitar fuzz and catchy, wistful melodies. As a result, the band hits all your retro pleasure censors without ever feeling like a throwback.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being a throwback if what you’re doing is fun and clever. Take, for example, Hunx (real name: Seth Bogart) — who started out in the anarchic queer electro-pop act Gravy Train!!!! before striking out on his own in 2008. His new band, Hunx and His Punx, is like an even campier version of Grease, makes ’60s girl group-style music about love and youth and heartbreak. Hunx also just put out a highly enjoyable solo record, Hairdresser Blues, that’s in the same vein as his work with the Punx.
Tami Hart is basically the best. Involved in the feminist DIY music scene since her teens, she’s been a folk rocker and a punk and played in some of the greatest LA bands of the past decade (Abe Vigoda, Mika Miko) — but her most recent project, Making Friendz, just might be our favorite. A ’90s-inspired combination of R&B, dance music, punk rock, and what we can only (appreciatively) call queer slow jams, the New York-based band released its debut LP, Social Life, last year. Warning: The album’s standout single, “Situation” (posted above), is awfully addictive.
Portland-based singer-songwriter Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn creates delicate, deeply felt songs that sound experimental and open and familiar at the same time. We’ve always thought of her albums as cold-weather music, the perfect soundtrack for days spent snowbound. In addition to her solo work, Mirah is a champion collaborator: Her 2000 breakthrough, You Think It’s Like This But Really It’s Like This, featured contributions from Phil Elverum of Mt. Eerie, and she’s also released albums with artist (and MEN member) Ginger Brooks Takahashi, Black Cat Orchestra, and Spectratone International. Perhaps her greatest collaboration, last year’s Thao + Mirah, found the musician teaming up with like-minded rocker Thao Nguyen.
Nine albums and over a decade into their career, Jamie Stewart’s Xiu Xiu belong to the darkest and weirdest corner of the indie-rock universe. Combining synthpop beats, industrial noise, and Stewart’s singular vocals, which range from wavering whispers to operatic outbursts, the band addresses in its lyrics such taboo subjects as sadomasochism, incest, and self-harm. Their new album, Always (out March 6th), even includes a track called “I Luv Abortion.” But Stewart isn’t just trolling for attention — like many great, controversial artists, he’s plumbing the extremes of human experience to illuminate the psychological and social truths pain can reveal. Fans of Xiu Xiu should also check out the two albums Stewart made as part of Former Ghosts, a collaborative project that included Nika Danilova (aka Zola Jesus) and Carla Bozulich.