Does Frank Ocean’s coming out mean more for hip-hop or for the LGBT community?

July has already been a momentous month for the LGBT community. Anderson Cooper didn’t so much come out as officially confirm that he identified as gay early in the week. Then, for some July 4 fireworks, Odd Future member Frank Ocean candidly talked about his past relationship with a man in a telling Tumblr post. A lengthy letter that was heartfelt and poetic (while never using the “g” or the “b” words) left no doubt that Ocean has come out of the closet as a member of the community — and as a bona fide hip-hop star.

There has been speculation on Ocean’s sexuality recently on blog buzz reviews about his upcoming album Channel Orange. MTV reported that he had openly used “him” in many of his songs which had been picked up on by those reviews. Ocean’s clearly in a more comfortable space, but could it be lost on the LGBT community?

—  Rich Lopez

Queer Music News: Hip-hop artist Y-Love comes out, Jay-Z is pro-gay marriage, so is Will Smith

The buzz is out on the Twitter-verse and Interwebs about rapper Y-Love coming out officially. The black, Jewish rapper has added gay to the list in his interview with Out.com today. Burdened with a public identity in a hip-hop world, he decided enough was enough and him coming out would serve a bigger purpose. From Out.com:

When asked if he decided it was time to come out publicly because of all the positive discourse in the press as of late, Jordan says his catalyst was actually the opposite. “It’s because of the negative backlash that’s coming. Because people like Michele Bachmann’s husband are still pedaling ex-gay therapy. Because there are kids that are jumping out of their school windows. I know what it feels like, and so I have to say something.”

Over the past few months, Jordan says he’s been coming out to close friends, but he’s urged them not to post anything on social media sites so he could still maintain his previous reputation. Now he’s ready to tell the world.

“I’ve dealt with racism; I’ve dealt with discrimination,” Jordan explains. “I want to be there at that gay pride festival, for that kid who has a baseball cap over his yarmulke. I know what it feels like to have to hide.”

—  Rich Lopez

2011 Year in Review: Music

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THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST | Chillwave specialist Ernest Greene of Washed Out turned ‘Within and Without’ into 2011’s best album — no matter what Adele thinks.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

You could say 2011 was the year of the superstar. Already-superstars Gaga, Beyonce and Britney dropped new albums confirming their status, while Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry became ones following the continued successes of 2010 discs. Kanye and Jay-Z teamed up to watch the throne and beardos Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver followed up their debuts with dreamy, though sometimes confusing releases.

Ultimately, it was Adele who ruled, leaving all others in the dust with an exercise in modern torch songs and declarative hits — so much so, she and 2011 are now practically synonymous.

But not exclusively. A few others made an impression on smaller fronts — and big ones, too. Each of the following resonated either through a chill groove or a strong beat, and ultimately made 2011 easy on the ears.

1. Washed Out, Within and Without What Ernest Greene does with this chillwave release is somewhere between a dream and astral projection. Each track floats in your ears as wonderful bubbles of music that are airy and delicate, but their impression is far more lasting. This isn’t just an album, but a luxury bath for the ears and soul, which made for practically infinite repeat plays. Key tracks: “Amor Fati,” “Eyes Be Closed.”

2. Caveman, CoCo Beware — In just two years, these Brooklyn indie rockers debuted their album with confidence to spare. Giving alt-rock sensibilities to Simon and Garfunkel folkisms, Caveman fits in the Grizzly Bear–Band of Horses vein and yet they still create a sound that will grow into their own. Those drums are to die for as is singer Matthew Iwanusa smooth tenor. Caveman’s release is more like a gift. Key tracks: “Decide,” “December 28th.”

3. Death Cab for Cutie, Keys and Codes Remix EP — By nature, most remixes are agony resulting in a soulless version of the original. That didn’t happen here in DCFC’s redux on their already- impressive Codes and Keys from earlier in the year. At times, the EP is even better than the original, with charged up versions of seven songs. Yeasayer, The 2 Bears and Cut Copy are among the remixers who don’t take away from DCFC’s spirit, but spike it huge with major beats. Key tracks: “Underneath the Sycamore,” “Some Boys.”

4. Adele, 21 This is very likely the album of the year for the entire world — and deservedly so. Adele channeled all the emotion of being done wrong by her man into a solid display of music. At times, she gets a little too sappy, but the strength of 21 isn’t just in Adele’s soulful voice, it’s also in her heart that is both pained and strengthened here. Plus, 21 pretty much just says “fuck you” to the ex the way we all wish we could. Key tracks: “Rolling in the Deep,” “Don’t You Remember.”

5. Adam Tyler, Shattered Ice — In his debut, Tyler broke through pop/dance music apathy to create a refreshing album of solid tunes. He recalls glorious pop of two and three decades ago but updates it with sexy lyrics and dynamic hooks. Tyler wrote all 11 songs and more than half of those are ready for the radio. Hopefully, someone will take notice, because Ice is too spectacular to be overlooked. Key tracks: “Pull the Trigger,” “I Won’t Let You Go.”

6. Real Estate, Days — Less is more with this complete package by the indie folk rockers from New Jersey. They smoothed out from their 2009 debut and bring a minimalist, but hardly simple approach to Days that shows off the band’s talents modestly, but considerably effectively with lush cascades of music. Days is a facile listen that may sound like background music, but you won’t forget it. Key tracks: “It’s Real,” “Younger than Yesterday.”

7. Beyonce, 4 — The diva missed out on big radio hits with this album, but she channeled her inner ‘80s-and-‘90s adult contemporaries and created a helluva fascinating album. Sidestepping the obvious, B dabbled in sophistication over aggression and came up with retro vibes without losing her style. She totally didn’t give up her skills trying for a big hit with “Rule the World (Girls)” but missed. That’s forgivable considering the brilliance of the rest. Key tracks: “Rather Die Young,” “I Care.”

8. CSS, La Liberacion — These Brazilian party rockers matured beautifully in their third album. For having a reputation of delivering queer-centric dance rock, earlier releases were a tad unfocused. CSS kept the same amped-up energy, but their songwriting and musicianship has grown into smart and sublime. From irreverence to slightly political, CSS looks like they have finally found their place. Key tracks: “City Grrrl,” “I Love You.”

9. Me’Shell Ndegéocello, Weather — Ndegéocello continues to bring the cool, and does so with the ultra-slick Weather. Her neo-soul chops have not been lost over the course of her almost two-decade career. Instead, she adds a layer of maturity with each new album and this year practically cultivated it into hip, soulful perfection. And that bass playing is so sexy, it’s borderline (but gloriously) obscene. Key tracks: “Chance,” “Dirty World.”

10. Emmeline, Someone to Be Coming in under the wire, Dallas singer Emmeline recently dropped off her disc personally to the Dallas Voice asking for a listen. Good thing she did, as she lies somewhere between Sarah MacLachlan and Regina Spektor. With earnest keyboards and charming vocals, she churned out one of the more delightful packages of tunes with a sugary edge that sticks just right and is wonderfully addictive. Key tracks: “Someone to Be,” “Dallas.”

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2011’s top LGBT releases

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Queer music was in full bloom over the last 12 months, with a wide range of LGBT artists — from veterans to newbies — strongly delivering great music. Here are some of the highlights that stuck out for us.
R.E.M, Collapse Into Now. Soon after this March release, the band announced they were breaking up after 30 years — with the appropriate greatest hits release in November.
Deborah Vial, Stages and Stones. The former Dallas gal showed off her chops from Hawaii in her soulful new album.

K.D. Lang and the Siss Boom Bang, Sing it Loud. Lang crooned, but also rocked gently with her new band.
Ariel Aparicio, Aerials. OutMusic Award winner Aparicio hit a strong note with his alt-rock album from August, fusing it with Latin flair.

Garrin Benfield, The Wave Organ Song. This scruffy folk-country artist relaxed into his fifth disc with a languid and poetic song cycle.

Girl in a Coma, Exits and All the Rest (pictured). The San Antonio rock trio made waves in 2011, landing on several year-end lists.

Brandon Hilton, Nocturnal. Hilton worked the web to his advantage to get his album on people’s radar and it worked both ways.

The Sounds, Something to Die For. The relentless alt-pop from these Swedes was one of the best music addictions of the year. And bi singer Maja Ivarsson sold it perfectly.

— R.L.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

The princess and the KING

Rihanna can’t seem to get from under that ‘Umbrella’, while Cirque du Soleil extends Michael Jackson’s legacy with ‘Immortal’

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STRAIGHT TALK | Rihanna returns with her strangeways in her sixth album ‘Talk That Talk.’

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Rihanna is a workaholic, pumping out albums faster than Black Friday shoppers busting out the pepper spray.

She was still finding her voice after 2009’s forgettable Rated R, but 2010’s Loud was a success.

She’s back in fine form with Talk That Talk, her new CD. But there’s more potential than perfection here; perhaps it could have been better if she took more time between releases.

Rihanna sings of naïve love with clichéd perspectives on this, her sixth album.

And while the lyrics work, the delivery doesn’t. Starting with “You Da One,“ she takes a page from Beyonce’s book a la 4.

There’s no onslaught, but instead a chill groove with some reggae touches on this decent opener. Although it instills an (unannoying) earworm, it gets messy in its structure.

Energy courses through Talk with “Where Have you Been.” It begins as a dance tune but veers into weird, house music tones. After discovering “da one,” she’s asking where have you been all my life. But producers Dr. Luke and Cirkut (Ke$ha, Flo-Rida) ruin the beat with a mish-mash of breakdowns pulling the song off its trajectory.

The album’s lead single, “We Found Love,” is addictively produced by writer Calvin Harris. The tone, while strong, feels like it would be more at place in the early ‘90s … but that’s not so bad. The keyboards are refreshing and even though the lyrics don’t stray far from the we-found-love-in-a-hopeless-place center; it’s the album’s strongest early offering.

Jay-Z doesn’t add much other than ego to the title track, but it’s here where Rihanna switches from blind love to an assertive woman eager to please. She submits to her lover with tell me how love to you, tell me how to hold you / I’mma get it right on the first try for you. The dancehall groove works and continues into “Cockiness (I Love It),” which leaves little to the imagination with lyrics like suck my cockiness / lick my persuasion. But she starts trying too hard, like Christina Aguilera on Bionic. It doesn’t help the song is poorly constructed.

The songs balance out Talk starting with “We All Want Love.” As straightforward pop, it adheres to a clean structure, which is a reprieve from the schizophrenia before. The lovey idealism returns more so with “Drunk on Love.” Feeling  hopelessly romantic, she’s also creepy-weird. When she moans about craving love, you think if you got in a relationship with her, a restraining order is not out of the question.

Still, the track stabilizes the album, as does “Roc Me Out,” the CD’s best track. Rihanna brings the intensity of her bigger hits. She may never have another “Umbrella,” but this one comes close.

She channels some Janet Jackson in the sexified flirtation “Watch n’ Learn,” but closes with the gorgeous ballad “Farewell.” She’s in broken-up stalker mode with lyrics like even though it kills me that you have to go / I know I’ll be sadder if you never hit the road. Talk about a no-win sitch. But it ends this chapter of Rihanna on a high note.
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Speaking of Jacksons, Michael makes a sort of return with Immortal, the soundtrack to Cirque du Soleil’s newest Vegas-style show celebrating the King of Pop. The album recalls his work from the Jackson 5 up to 2001’s Invincible, his last solo album. (Thankfully, none of the 2010 embarrassing posthumous release Michael is in this mix.)

While the majority of the songs are still by Jackson, they have been reworked, remixed or reimagined by Rihanna producer Kevin Antunes. The double disc of 29 songs is a gloriously clean listen to some of the biggest hits in music.

Where this could easily have been an exploitation of his work (and maybe it is), it only feels like respectfully updated versions of pop classics. When Fergie and Kanye West did their remakes for Thriller’s 25th anniversary, they were almost blasphemous; here, they are merely amplified with tweaks that never take away from that Jackson hit-making magic.

The subsequent tracks of “Gone Too Soon” and “Childhood” display his tender voice in crystal clarity and are tear inducing because they remind he’s no longer here. The added spoken word could have come across as cheesy, but it works.

Immortal reads like a greatest hits with all the obvious inclusions. “Smooth Criminal” retains its power but in shorter time; the “Beat It/State of Shock” coupling is just short of brilliant; and the “Immortal Megamix: Can You Feel It/Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough/Billie Jean/Black or White” belongs more on the dancefloor than onstage.

Given all the hits on here, there is a surprising omission with “Rock With You.” As big of a song as that was, it doesn’t get its own redux. But Antunes clearly has a love for Jackson and this collection lifts the singer far above any controversy or strangeness that plagued him and instead reminds of both his genius and his legacy.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Jay-Z at AAC last night

Last night, I made it over to catch Jay-Z at American Airlines. Coming off of the Mariah Carey debacle, I had high hopes for a good show. And Jay-Z delivered.

With a 10+ piece band and huge backsplash screens, Jay-Z played it simple but with lots of energy. He works his crowd with enough spirit that he doesn’t need all the flash and tricks to make a good show. And the almost packed house ate it up.

—  Rich Lopez

Grammys Live Blog: America still living on a prayer

If the Real Housewives of the Grammys was a show, I’d cast so far, Sheryl Crow and Toni Braxton. Who else?

Bon Jovi is milking this “first performance on the Grammys” thing. I’m almost feeling guilty for not voting for a song they should perform. But you still can! In the meantime, they’ll sing non-hits. Is that Sugarland chick singing with the Jersey boys? Or did Melissa Etheridge go fem?

OK, no more voting for the Bon Jovi song of the night. Surprise — “Livin’ On a Prayer.” All two minutes of it.

Best Rap/Song collab. Rihanna, Jay-Z and Kanye. And Jay-Z takes Will Smith’s kid up to the podium.

—  Rich Lopez