Press Play is an eclectic column by Austin Nguyen compiling music across boundaries of time, genre, and language in the hopes that you will find a song that speaks to you.
I’m over a month early for pride month in June, but with the announcements that Pride Parades in Chicago and New York will be postponed/canceled altogether, the music released by LGBTQ artists and the allies (however, they amount to more than their sexuality, of course) that stand with them is still cause to celebrate — at a reasonable distance and preferably within your own house though.
“down by the lake” by ionnalee
(While the singer does not have explicit ties to the LGBTQ community, her concerts have been described as “a place of acceptance for people of all backgrounds, including queer culture,” by music news site Blurred Culture.
In celebration of her decade-spanning career, Jonna Lee (otherwise known by her stage name ionnalee and from the project iamamiwhoami) has compiled a playlist of past works, from demos to unreleased singles.
Entitled KRONOLOGI, the playlist will be updated each week, from April 10 to June 10, with a new track by Lee and/or her co-songwriter Barbelle, and “down by the lake,” released today, is the playlist’s newest addition.
Sparse yet atmospheric, the song feels shrouded in mist, restrained by its trepidation; synths swoosh in and out, and Lu’s airy vocals seem to reverberate from everywhere and nowhere. The meaning of the lyrics is just as opaque, cryptic: “I bled through sand a red-colored water / ‘Murder, this is treason,’ they’re crying out,” Lee sings before her voice becomes vocodered in the bridge.
No resolution is found — a crime with no punishment, a weapon with no motive — but somehow, with those final background vocals and synth glissandos, peace still glistens on top of the lake.
Check out the rest of the KRONOLOGI playlist on Spotify.
Recently released singles and EPs:
~ Singles/EPs ~
“I Dare You” by Kelly Clarkson
Clarkson’s latest music video, as seen above, shows her support for queer love.
Every fiber of my being is telling me to throw this song into the waste bin, roll my eyes at Kelly Clarkson’s post-Y2K-prime fodder for the pop machine. My middle school “Heathers” phase and high school “My So-Called Life” binges want to dismiss each kumbaya lyric as grating, a message of squealing idealism bested in its vapidity only by Szymko’s “It Takes A Whole Village.”
But right now, when the political fissures in America have been exacerbated by opportunistic policies to deny abortions, when shelter-at-home directives are being protested as fascism in spite of their public endangerment, and when the blame has made its surgical rounds prodding at everyone from the Chinese government and Trump to the World Health Organization, is it wrong to believe in the little flickers of hope, however trite and kitsch?
In another context, the “wolf preys / world strays” rhyme might be criticized as fourth grade poetry plagiarism; now, the words sting with a bitter truth of a society that believes a scapegoat is better than a solution. We find power in opposition, Jia Tolentino writes in “Trick Mirror,” and the battlegrounds of today’s pandemic make her inductive claim an undeniable axiom.
Just the other day, I was taking a walk when a woman taking her dog out stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, pointed to the open road, told me to go around her in slighting annoyance, and my automated response: to register the interaction as a microaggression.
What made this woman exempt from putting her own effort into the social distancing protocol? The color of her skin, as if this virus infects on an ethnic basis and anyone who doesn’t fit the profile has the authority to command direction? Didn’t she have just as much obligation to take preventive measures, to take the measly steps around because she obviously had legs that worked just as well as mine?
But more importantly, why had this become a her-vs-me situation, where she had to be in the wrong and I in the right when we both just wanted to survive this pandemic as the next person? You can label the song as some “Fight Song” or “Roar” spin-off with its belting vocals and wholehearted optimism, but Clarkson is right about one thing: In times of crises, love can truly be a dare.
“Biutiful” by Mon Laferte
While it lacks the cinematic atmosphere of “Cancion de Miedra” and “No Te Me Quites De Aca,” “Biutiful” is kept afloat by its high-stakes drama and Laferte’s powerhouse vocals.
Her flat and bright delivery in the first verse borderlines on satire, like a child mocking their best friend, and its staccato oohs feel tacky, as if added merely for some cheap element of distinction. But once the drum fill kicks off the chorus, each repetition of “beautiful” feels liberating and defiant, a high you wish lasted longer, and after the bridge — percussive and slinky, Laferte using each consonant as a platform to catapult off of — it finally does.
“LIFE” by TENDRE
I have no evidence whatsoever that TENDRE is queer in any shape or form. In fact, the LGBTQ community remains severely ostracized in Japan. But… a bop is a bop.
“LIFE” is “Phase”-era Jack Garratt meets disco, and TENDRE knows how to surmount all-too-popular lo-fi chill-thargy: the syncopated synths add a propelling rhythmic contrast against the four-on-the-floor drums and sunshine-haze guitars before the volume dials back to horn flourishes, sparse handclaps, and a seemingly improvisatory bass line. By the end, the chorus is near-euphoric, and if you won’t study/relax to this music, it’s because you’ll be dancing to it instead.
Recently released albums:
“Fetch The Bolt Cutters” by Fiona Apple
The critically-acclaimed singer has previously expressed her report for the “love is love” mentality in a viral letter, according to the Huffington Post.
Fiona Apple released an album. ‘Nuff said. Previous words written on the album can be found here.
“SAWAYAMA” by Rina Sawayama
Sawayama has come out as bisexual/pansexual, according to Billboard.
I would’ve written something for this, but I already read the reviews written by Pitchfork’s Katherine St. Asaph and NPR’s Miguel Perez (I have a rule about not reading other criticism if I’m writing my own), both of which dissected the Y2K culture better than I ever could! Check them out here and here, respectively.
Peer into the past:
“I’m Not In Love” by Kelsey Lu
The professional cellist identifies as bisexual, according to Teen Vogue.
Back in the late aughts/early 2010s, a powerhouse voice and a guitar could catapult a singer into the mainstream; after all, that was how Tori Kelly, Halsey, Justin Bieber, and other singers were discovered — their first glimmer of stardom. In the era of mass dissemination though, when there are tens (if not, hundreds) of accounts dedicated to jaw-dropping performances from “The Voice” and other platforms followed in the millions, it isn’t enough.
Social media has enabled everyone to have a chance at viral success through its ease of access, and as such, sifting through the glitter to see which aspiring singers are truly gold has become increasingly difficult.
Otherwise stated: Anyone can upload a cover to the Internet, rehash the source material in their own voice; few can make a melody their own, take a song and frame it in their own vision.
Kelsey Lu achieved the latter when she released “I’m Not In Love” on her debut album “Blood,” which celebrated its one-year anniversary on April 19. Since then, the 10cc cover has been featured in HBO’s “Euphoria.”
“Who else came cause of that weird yet magical scene in euphoria lol,” reads one YouTube comment. But Lu’s sparkling, surround-sound cover is just as stunning on its own.
The introduction captures that first glance of love perfectly — how everything in the periphery becomes blurred and distant, left with nothing but an acute sense of self-awareness, feeling every muffled heartbeat through your chest — before Lu comes in. Her voice floats like a mythical siren atop of synths, ethereal and divine, but her desires are corporeal, mortal. “It’s just a silly phase I’m going through,” Lu tells herself, trying to not to give into the entrapment of love, and her words seem to form the perfect lie.
That is, until the phrase tapers off, faltering with any reason to believe it (“It’s because…”). The sound becomes immersive during the interlude when synths start to twinkle and big boys don’t crys start to ripple in the sea of emotions, but the last chorus, an echochamber of Lu’s vocals, shows love as it truly is: overwhelming and immense.