August LGBTQ Music: Gay Christian Music, a Glance at ’80s Pop, and Saxophones in Queer Time

Angel Olsen, who came out as gay in April, has a new ep, "Aisles."
Dana Trippe

At a time when Lil Nas X is dominating the music industry, other LGBTQ music artists are also coming out with new music in the month of August.

Queer Norwegian saxophonist Bendik Giske is debuting an album inspired by “queer time,” Semler is reaching new heights as a LGBTQ artist in Christian music, and Angel Olsen is introducing a new ep on August 20. Below we have an overview of the latest offerings by these out music artists.

“Preacher’s Kid” by Semler

Semler introduced their NPR Tiny Desk performance with “I’m Semler, and I make Christian music about being gay.” The queer, non-binary singer made history this year when their “Preacher’s Kid” ep topped iTunes’ Christian chart, becoming the first out LGBTQ artist ever to do so. Swearing, acknowledging a fondness for weed, and singing about homophobia and religious trauma aren’t particularly challenging for a typical indie folk artist, but “Preacher’s Kid” is full of anger at a community she grew up in while still finding comfort in faith.

Semler, under her real name Grace Baldridge, hosted a YouTube series about LGBTQ people and Christianity for Refinery29. The episode about the flaws of the Christian music industry helped inspire “Preacher’s Kid.” On “Jesus From Texas,” she sings “I find it easier to believe in Bigfoot than God, because he does no harm,” with the chorus running “I’ll spend the rest of my life tearing down/the Jesus from Texas you believe in.” Semler, whose father is indeed an Episcopal preacher, addresses the repression of their sexuality in very personal terms. Without mentioning gender, “Chicken” describes their teenage attraction to a female friend, which ended after getting caught by adults. “Youth Camp” looks back at the same period and goes even further, recalling furtive sexual experiences at Christian camp while asking God “if you’re out there, I’m waiting.” The outro “Promised Land” finally takes a more hopeful view of Christianity, singing “I don’t know who you think I am/I belong in the promised land.”

The ep is rough and homemade, with subtle overdubs of their own backing vocals and keyboards. Samples of keys being shaken open and close it.  They left in takes where their voice strains as long as it suited the song’s emotions. The lo-fi sound of “Preacher’s Kid” may stem from financial necessity, but it enhances the music’s pull. So does the specific, personal tone of the lyrics. “Preacher’s Kid” has the impact of a brief collection of short stories.

Semler“Preacher’s Kid” | PK Records 

“Aisles” by Angel Olsen

For the last decade, movie trailers have been filled with slow, depressive covers of pop songs by female singers. On the surface, the new ep by Angel Olsen, who came out as gay in April, is up to the same thing. She covers five pop songs from the ‘80s: Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face,” Laura Brannigan’s “Gloria,” Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance,” Alphaville’s “Forever Young,” and OMD’s “If You Leave.” Although Olsen’s own songs have been more folk-based, she dabbled in dance music with the Chromatics’ excellent remix of “All Mirrors,” the title track of her last album. (She has also released the single “Like I Used To,” a duet with Sharon van Etten, this summer.) She slows down “Eyes Without a Face,” “Safety Dance,” and “Gloria” and performs “Forever Young” without percussion.

Olsen relies on electronics here without adopting an ‘80s synth-pop aesthetic. These songs are actual reinterpretations. “Gloria” puts reverb on the drums, creating a stuttering effect that reveals an anxiety covered up by the original’s upbeat arrangement. Olsen transforms “Gloria” from a dancefloor triumph to a song about a woman struggling with loneliness, mental health issues, and difficult relationships. (Her inspiration came from watching her aunts dance to it at a wedding and picturing them doing so in slow motion.)  “Eyes Without a Face” strips Idol’s song of the original singer’s pseudo-punk sneer. These first three songs come close to the “sad girl” cover formula, but their slow arrangements emphasize lyrics that might’ve been lost in the originals. Olsen’s “If You Leave,” which features electric guitar and booming drums, is far more melodramatic than OMD. “Forever Young” ends with a long instrumental section built around soaring strings. Instead of reaching a dramatic climax, the strings fade out beneath a growing layer of effects. This project was conceived with producer Adam McDaniel as a break from more ambitious albums, but it adds up to something more enjoyable and substantial than a pandemic stopgap.

Angel Olsen | “Aisles” | Somethingscosmic | Aug. 20th 

“Cracks” by Bendik Giske

Queer Norwegian saxophonist Bendik Giske distorts his instrument’s sound with circular breathing techniques and electronic processing. While the sax is most commonly associated with jazz, Giske creates a new kind of ambient music. “Flutter” loops his saxophone so that it sounds like hand percussion. Working with producer André Bratten, Gisk layers his saxophone playing into a droning background and blows brief riffs in the foreground. Giske’s use of reverb and delay pedals isn’t just an attempt to push his instrument in a new direction. His new album “Cracks” was inspired by the concept of queer time, as expressed by Jose Esteban Muñoz’s 2009 book “Cruising in Utopia.” The homage becomes explicit with the title of the second song, “Cruising.” The notion of the recording studio as an instrument itself isn’t necessarily radical in 2021, but “Cracks” uses it to create a space of possibilities that wouldn’t exist if he were playing solo saxophone live. The amount of echo allows notes to linger for minutes. Giske nods to the vocabulary of free jazz greats like Albert Ayler (especially on “Void”), but uses Muñoz’s notion that real queerness can only exist in the future to create sound design that merges the human and synthetic into a new whole.

Bendik Giske | “Cracks” | Smalltown Supersound | Aug. 27th

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