The phrase "gay icon" gets tossed around a lot, but why is it that some figures amass more of a gay audience? Welcome to Gay Iconography, a feature where we present a proposed iconic figure or character and then ask you to weigh in with your thoughts.
Debbie Harry is a musician, actress and style icon. The legendary lead singer of Blondie has left her mark across punk, disco and new wave with a string of hits and an unmistakable cool.
Known for her signature peroxide-blonde hair and striking features, she's also appeared in films, television and even once as a Playboy bunny. She became something of an institution in the New York City scene at places like Studio 54 and CBGB.
It's there that she became closely tied to the gay community.
“Blondie has always been a part of the downtown community in NYC, with many, many friends who represent alternative lifestyles," she told the Huffington Post in a press release following the band's refusal to play in Sochi for the Winter Olympics. "We feel very strongly about these friendships and associations, and don’t feel good about participating in a situation where biases and prejudices are paramount."
She made headlines for tweeting a photo of the offer letter for the Sochi gig with the words "PASS human rights" scrawled over it. It's not the first time she's stood up for the LGBT community, as a long-time ally in the fight against AIDS, as well as appearing on Cyndi Lauper's True Colors tour for the Human Rights Campaign. She told Gay Times Magazine: "I know its important to stand up for gay rights or letting people get over their hang-ups or their prejudices. But for me personally it's never been an issue and I feel like as an adult you are entitled to whatever sexuality you are and have and whoever you're in love with."
Celebrate Debbie Harry with some classic videos, and tell us your thoughts on the fabulous frontwoman, AFTER THE JUMP ...
What would it sound like if Blondie teamed up with gay Gossip frontwoman Beth Ditto? We now know as their new dance track "A Rose By Any Name" has hit the web. It's the first track from Blondie's upcoming album Ghosts of Download, set for release later this year along with a tour beginning September 5th in 18 U.S. cities.
It's also lifted by the gorgeous, catchy gay-friendly chorus: ”If you’re a boy or if you’re a girl / I love you just the same.”
It's not every day that a major artist releases a 37-track, three-disc set of remixes comprising the last thirty years of their career — which is likely because I don't think it's ever happened before. In that sense, Remixes 2: 81–11 is breaking some sort of ground that even the 36-track Remixes: 81–04 couldn't touch: This is a collection that not only bolsters the band's unwavering relevance as songwriters and synthpop pioneers, but makes a distinct connection to their enduring influence on modern club music. Admittedly, 37 tracks is a lot for even the most stalwart of fans to digest, so I went ahead and pulled five of the highlights — and lowlights! — for this very special Depeche Mode Remix Redux:
Produced by one-half of Layo & Bushwacka!, the first song on this collection is, for all intents and purposes, the kind of thing you'd hear at 10:30 P.M. in the club — a stark, tech-house beat that most DJs would call "tracky" under a vocal that only serves to set the hypnotic pace. It is not, by far, the most commercial track on this collection, and because of that, it's also a genius choice: Clubgoers will appreciate the deep house warm-up, while dudes who really loved Mike Koglin's weird trance version of "Enjoy The Silence" in 1998 will feel rightfully duped.
2009's "Peace," from Sounds of the Universe, fell somewhat flat in its original incarnation as a downtempo, low-slung bass-driven single; there was something to the lyric and the vocal that the music failed to express. The answer, as SixToes saw it, was a human element. Strings, tabla, and even banjo transform the original into something not even Martin Gore could conceive: a neo-Americana Depeche Mode.
If you lived in New York at a certain time, and you know something about the mid-'90s Save The Robots afterhours parties, and you've seen what that place looked like at six in the morning, and you actually feel nostalgic for it, then boy, have I got a remix for you.
The ultra-distorted electro style of Justice and Digitalism seems like a good idea in context, but when you try to remix a song whose major asset is its melody by featuring a dysmorphic synth that borders on atonal, it's just not going to be good. And that's being generous.
Two ex-members of Depeche Mode — both respected and accomplished in their own right — provided remixes for this collection, and thirty years down the road, that's a pretty fantastic feat. But if you have to compare them (and you don't, but I decided to!), there's something about Clarke's track that slightly edges out Wilder's take on "In Chains." It could be that Wilder seemed intent on making a proper Depeche Mode song — or that his trusted playbook provided a missed opportunity to recreate what we think we know about the band. But ultimately, it was something less hypothetical than that: Clarke's revision suggests that only one ex-member of Depeche Mode has been keeping up with underground techno since Songs of Faith and Devotion.
In the face of immediate cries of plagiarism following the premiere of their new single "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall," Coldplay clarify: The song was simply "inspired" by the 1990 single "Ritmo de la Noche" by Mystic, which was in turn based on another song called "I Go to Rio," which was written by Peter Allen and Adrienne Anderson and later sung by everyone from Peggy Lee to the Muppets, among others. Says a Coldplay spokesperson, "Allen and Anderson are credited as writers" in the album's liner notes.
Björk's new album, Biophilia, is shaping up to be an experiment in technology and mobile apps: The record will be released as an "app album" for the iPad, featuring ten mini-apps to go with each song. A preview of the first song, "Crystalline," hit the web this week.
Blondie are prepping the release of Panic of Girls — their first new album in seven years — with a physical release slated for July. UK fans, however, got an early taste of the album through Amazon's digital download store this week, and the preview is promising: Retromodern and yet actually modern, the album also features young Brooklyn songwriter Zach Condon — who adds trumpet to "Wipe Off My Sweat" and whose band, Beirut, originally wrote and recorded "A Sunday Smile."
If you're looking for some new DJ mixes to stream, BUTT magazine is hoping to fill the void with a new exclusive series of mixtapes available from their specially designed BUTT audio-player. The first mix is up now, featuring Berlin DJs Discodromo and Boris — the latter of whom is a Paradise Garage vet and former heyday resident at Berlin's legendary Panorama Bar.
This week's bizarre confession: Take That's Robbie Williams undergoes weekly testosterone treatment. "Went to see a Hollywood doctor, had my blood tests," he explained. "He said, 'You've got the testosterone of a 100-year-old man.' And then everything made sense. It was kind of an epiphany."
Nomi Ruiz came to light as the breakout star of the debut self-titled Hercules & Love Affair album; her contributions to "You Belong" and "Hercules Theme" set a tone that producer Andy Butler had trouble recreating on album number-two. This week, Ruiz returns with her own group, Jessica 6, and a debut album that belies their new-band status. Equal parts disco, proto-house, and coquettish R&B, See The Lightplays with a lot of the ideas that Ruiz explored with Hercules, but shoots less for homage and more for total embodiment. While "Prisoner Of Love" will get much of the press for its Chicago-styled piano house and Antony Hegarty guest spot, tracks like "Champagne Bubbles/Remember When" invoke an anachronistic Mary J. Blige nestled into a late night Quiet Storm slot on 1980s R&B radio. This is, in case you're wondering, a pretty awesome thing.
He reinvented himself on Broadway with work on the Tony Award-winning Spring Awakening, meaning that Duncan Sheik has outlived most of the singer-songwriters that came up alongside him in the mid-'90s. (Ubiquitous hits like "Barely Breathing" tend to add to one's shelf-life considerably, if not subsidize the lesser-selling albums destined to follow.) Off Broadway, Sheik's more recent albums have mellowed even further with age, and Covers '80s takes this slow-motion weathering to its next logical step: A collection of twelve totally inoffensive, and even occasionally endearing interpretations of hits by Depeche Mode, The Smiths, Talk Talk, and, umm, The Thompson Twins won't set the world on fire, but they will remind you how old you are in a gentle, toe-tapping kind of way.
Having lost lead singer Tyondai Braxton to the dreaded solo project just last summer, Battles wasted no time in regrouping as a three-piece and putting together Gloss Drop — which, when all is said and done, barely registers any sort of recognizable absence from being one man down. The largely instrumental album draws firmly on cultural rhythmic traditions ("Dominican Fade"), post-rock detritus ("Futura"), and traditionally electronic dance music-gone-analog ("Sweetie & Shag"), but tracks like "Ice Cream" — featuring Kompakt techno stalwart Matias Aguayo on vocals — remind us that Battles still know how to put together a memorable, if not challenging hook. Braxton may have been the voice, but he didn't own the vision.
If I wanted to make some sort of official pick-hit of the week, "Belongings" would earn the title, hands down. Clock Opera's latest single draws most obviously from Steve Reich, Peter Gabriel, and Elbow, and yet somehow manages to come out a gorgeously reticent pop song that makes every other record that came out this week feel a little less adventurous — and nowhere as emotionally resonant. It's stunning.
Take That — "Love Love"
The latest single from the revamped electropop Take That sounds more like Gary Numan fronting The Killers than it does the band responsible for "Greatest Day," but the group's recent musical reinvention is one of many reasons why they're so damn relevant. "Love Love" is the lead single for X-Men: First Class.
The Grates — "Turn Me On"
After two well-received albums, Australian indie-pop duo The Grates decided they needed to live a little — so they moved to Brooklyn and pledged to stay until a third album was in the can. That record, Secret Rituals, is likely the one they needed to make: "Turn Me On" makes good on the title of their 2008 album Teeth Lost, Hearts Won; it's wrought with fear, not paralyzed by it.
Ford & Lopatin — "World Of Regret"
The debut album by Ford & Lopatin is called Channel Pressure, and it comes out today along with this video for "World of Regret," a hyper-animated clip that's probably more acid trip than acid house. Fans of carnival posters with dolphins on them — or airbrushed wolf sweatshirts, for that matter — will revel in its ironic artistic merit.
Despite its cheerless title, A Guide To Love, Loss, and Desperation — the well-received 2007 debut album by the Wombats — was technically more manic than depressive; lyrical nods to bleak romantic failure and bleaker Joy Division listening sessions were belied by the music's pulsing party soundtrack. But the album's fixation on hopelessness, we know now, was deeper than the surface allowed: Vocalist Matthew Murphy was, in fact, not only struggling with depression, but with a spate of psychological side effects from the antidepressants he was taking to cure it. With This Modern Glitch Murphy comes out through to the other side, where the paradigm shift is most pronounced on songs like "Techno Fan" — perhaps the first-ever explicitly anti-rockist anthem — or "Tokyo (Vampires and Wolves)," in which the demons from Murphy's past are recast as horror movie beasts before he finally beats them. It's a motif that carries over into the album's undisputed centerpiece, "Anti-D," where The Wombats revise "Bittersweet Symphony" for an anti-Prozac polemic that is as uplifting and optimistic as any song that rhymes "antidepressant" with "decongestant" will ever be. The symbolism of Murphy taking a beating by a gang of doctors in the song's video is, therefore, a literal one — but then so are the final images of Murphy being saved by his friends and raised to the sky in some sort of cognitive rapture. In other words, while the narrative of the "triumphant return" is a hackneyed one, sometimes the shoe just fits.
Cancer claimed the lives of two great musicians this week: On Wednesday, TV On The Radio announced the tragic passing of their bassist and founding member Gerard Smith. It was revealed last month that Smith had been diagnosed with lung cancer shortly after recording their new album, Nine Types of Light. He was 34. And just this morning it was confirmed that feminist punk icon Poly Styrene lost her battle with breast cancer yesterday. Best known for her work in X-Ray Spex, Poly's inimitable voice and individualist attitude set the stage for gender politics in punk rock — arguably changing the landscape for generations of indie bands to follow. Her newest album, Generation Indigo, came out today in America and is available for streaming. She was 53.
Next month, former Joy Division and New Order bassist Peter Hook will issue a new EP with his current group The Light, featuring new versions of classic Joy Division songs like "Atmosphere" and "New Dawn Fades." More intriguing, however, is the inclusion of "Pictures In My Mind" — a previously unfinished and unreleased Joy Division song that Hook carries the lead vocal on.
Rufus Wainwright is set to release an insanely huge box set of his recorded works titled House of Rufus. The set will contain all six studio albums (with unreleased bonus tracks), as well as four additional CDs featuring pretty much every song Wainwright has ever recorded or appeared on — including the demos that got him signed. There will also be another six DVDs of live performances and feature-length documentaries, a 90-page hardcover book, and interviews with Neil Tennant, Martha Wainwright, and Linda Thompson, among others. This impossible-to-consume-in-its-entirety collection will be available on July 18.
Here's another one for our ongoing list of unlikely pop music collaborations: M.I.A. was recently in the studio with producer Polow Da Don (the man responsible for "Love In This Club") and the perpetually choleric Chris Brown. Whether or not Maya is using these sessions for a new mixtape or her fourth full-length album is as of yet unclear.
Motion City Soundtrack's Justin Pierre resurfaced this week as a member of Farewell Continental — a shamelessly pop side project that Spin quite accurately compares to "British boy-girl bands like Ash." That dynamic is apparent on lead single "Dagger, Dagger: Terror Terror," where Pierre is outshined by Kari Gray's anxious introspection wrapped up in '90s indie delivery. The song is available now as a free download.
The Franz Ferdinand Covers EP, originally released for last month's Record Store Day, will get a proper release in May. The band calls it "an EP of covers of our songs by people whose music we love," and the tracklist is pretty flawless: Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields, LCD Soundsystem, ESG, and Peaches all contribute to the record, as does Debbie Harry — who appears with Franz Ferdinand themselves. The entire EP is available for streaming below.
Since the release of 2007's excellent All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone, Austin's Explosions In The Sky have seen their brand of angular post-rock soundtracking Friday Night Lights, in the upper reaches of the Billboard charts, and on stage at Radio City Music Hall — all of which seems incomprehensible for an instrumental group whose closest musical reference points have names like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and This Will Destroy You. This week, the band returns with Take Care, Take Care, Take Care — a sprawling collection of intersecting guitar patterns, Eno-inspired ambiance, and slow-building loud rock freakouts which, at their best, reconfirm Explosion's genre-defying relevance.
We weren't really done with "the old James Blake" when the UK press proclaimed Jamie Woon to be "the new James Blake," which is kind of a critical curse if I've ever heard one. Either way, Woon's debut album Mirrorwriting is sure to add to the divisive discourse surrounding the ongoing commercialization of dubstep: Producer Will Bevan — better known as Burial — handles production for the album's three opening tracks, presenting Woon as an ambient soul singer with a ghostly house soundtrack, and their collaborative success is actually quite stunning. Sadly, Bevan's absence from the rest of the album is deeply felt: "Middle," for one, pairs a lifeless UK garage beat with a generic lyrical hook, whereas "Echoes" merges Steve Reich and John Legend with questionable results. For now anyway, James Blake needn't look over his shoulder.
Deliberate or not, the twenty-first studio album by Emmylou Harris reminds me of Lucinda Williams' West — a palpably mournful country record steeped in loss and lament. For Harris as it was for Williams, this makes for some truly compelling listening: "The Road" is an elegy for Gram Parsons, "My Name Is Emmett Till" eulogizes a 14-year-old black boy murdered for speaking to a white woman during the American segregation era, and "Darlin' Kate" remembers Kate McGarrigle with a simple folk song befitting of its subject. But Hard Bargain is not as dark as its content might suggest, and much like her later-era work — especially with Wrecking Ball and Red Dirt Girl — the stylistics of this album rely more on the emotional inclines popularized by U2 or Coldplay than that of the linear storytelling arcs of those Merle Haggard or Hank Williams songs that Harris covered so early in her career. That the title track is a cover of a Ron Sexsmith song is certainly revealing in that sense: Hard Bargain is a thoroughly modern requiem for our increasingly slippery past.
The debut single for Nerina Pallot's upcoming fourth album was originally written by Pallot for inclusion on Kylie Minogue's Aphrodite album, but thank God it didn't make the cut. While I know there's a club hit inside of here somewhere, Pallot's version is better served when it's steered by '60s pop and Northern Soul, comparable to Feist or Adele while not quite conjuring either. Also unexpected: Pallot made the bulk of this new album with Suede's Bernard Butler.
Friendly Fires — "Live Those Days Tonight"
A song that critiques nostalgia for things you were probably too young to be a part of the first time around is actually quite refreshing, if not somewhat self-referential, when it's coming from Friendly Fires. "Live Those Days Tonight," from the band's forthcoming Pala, revisits hip-house, acid, and the death of the smiley face with this oddly mesmerizing collage of images and video from the UK Summer of Love. A cameo by the Techno Viking was, perhaps, inevitable.
Heavenly States — "Berlin Wall" (feat. Britt Daniel)
Oakland's Heavenly States found their biggest fan in Spoon's Britt Daniel, who discovered the band's 2008 album Delayer, shortlisted it for his published year-end lists, and later asked them to open for a handful of Spoon tour dates. On the first single for Heavenly States' new Oui Camera Oui EP, Daniel extends his connection to the band by lending his voice to this throbbing, memorable folk-rock concoction.
Superchunk — "Crossed Wires"
In the near-ten-year interim between Here's To Shutting Up and last year's excellent Majesty Shredding, Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster became a comedian and writer for shows like Monk and Tim and Eric Awesome Show. The band's latest video combines this comedic impulse with the number-one loved thing on the Internet — namely, cats. Like there was any chance this wasn't gonna go viral.