"Dem uppity colored queers..."
Intersectionalitythe interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. [definition from Wikapedia]
"Intersectionality" seems to be the new "hot" word of the moment but, as evidenced by an emerging wave of Black queer voices and bands, all that talk about disadvantage and discrimination is just a bunch of hooey. Rather than serving more ruminations on the state of our current times through rage, despair and bald-faced uplift, these artists have taken cues from Black queer rock pioneers like Nona Hendryx, Ono's Travis Travis Travis and Bloc Party's Kele Okereke, and refashioned them into music that is unique, engrossing and altogether arresting. Or, as Brian O'Neal and his band The Bus Boys once sang, "I'll bet you never heard music like this by spades..."
First up is Pink Avalanche, fronted by queer quitarist/vocalist Che Arthur, with Adam Reach on drums and Kortland Chase on bass. Although the act's been around for years as a quartet, they've recently re-formed as a trio and are at work on the follow up to 2014's The Luminous Heart of Nowhere ( Past/Futures Records ). Granted, I caught them at a rare gig in June, when they debuted their new configuration while workshopping new unrecorded musicand I was pleasantly surprised at what I heard.
On the face of it, Pink Avalanche is a guitar-driven band, but what sets it way apart is how it's redefined that label. The still-morphing "Translucent" is almost entirely built on steely guitar string plucks and Arthur's murky vocals ( he sounds like he's singing with a mouthful of peanut butter ), but the song has suspense and tension and builds to a shimmering climax. "Blood on Tile" sounds positively haunted, with its elegant guitar parts and supernatural drone, and both songs sound like goth wave turned upside down. It doesn't hurt that Reach and Kortland are no slouches and insist on fueling all that ghostly atmosphere with meaty back beats and percussive thunder claps. I'm rather thankful that I didn't get to hear Pink Avalanche as a four-piece because this version has a knack for simmering subversive art rock that sounds like nothing I've ever heard before.
It's hard to see just what the hell Jolene Whatevr and her crew, Blacker Face, are up to on the new Think Piece ( on bandcamp ). As noted here before vocalist Whatevr and partner-in-crime Noah Jones ( drums ) were half of Atta Boy, which melded her honeyed soul croon to concrete shredding punk rock. Now the two are joined by Isaac Nicholas ( on guitar ), Louis N. Clark ( on keyboards ) and pt. Bell ( on bass ), and with queer nutter Donnie Moore ( of Absolutely Not ) and the mild-mannered Brian Fox producing, they've concocted a jerky mash-up of genres that is crammed with personality, punch and amusement. Where Atta Boy was confrontational, Blacker Face and Think Piece are engaging, witty, fun and, for lack of a better word, weird.
"Nick @ Nite" is the boldest example here, with Whatevr starting the song with a heavy tone akin to a slave work song while the band slogs on like a dirge. Suddenly after a barrage of wordy lyrics, Whatevr ramps the song into soaring gospel mode while the band shifts tempos with jerky speed. Nuttier still is "Weird Dreams," which starts as an oversized slab of sloppy hard rock, then morphs into a monolithic cruncher with Whatevr literally raising the roof and Bell shrieking like he's got a toe caught in a bear trapbefore it all changes into a wonky free-for-all.
Think Piece is leagues away from the band's perky pop ( "Gawd Damn" ) and burbling punk ( "Riot Grrlz" ) of last year's Blacker Face Bids You Welcome to Mississippi Goddamn, but for all the sonic pizazz the most telling song here is the straight up mid-tempo rocker "Hate Trumps Trump." Avoiding the expected acid and bile approach, Whatevr croons defensively, "You make it hard for me just to be me," and for people of color and queers of every variety she calmly articulates the frustration of dealing with a president who acts like a toddler. The punchline of the song comes when she coyly condescends to her subject by calmly singing, "Sorry I can't be naive, that gift was never given to me," which nails it that she ( and millions of others ) comes from a place far removed from privilegewhite or otherwise.
On an altogether different plane we have Blackie: A Story by Roy Kinsey ( self-released ), which is shaping up to be the best full-length of the year. The CD has already garnered an inordinate amount of rave press from the likes of NPR, The Chicago Reader, The Los Angeles Times, Billboard magazine and the BBC but what got my attention was Kinsey's almost alchemic ability to morph a project inspired by his relationship with his late grandmother and Isabel Wilkerson's book The Warmth of Other Suns into a celebration of femininity, queer identity and history.
On the second track, "Mississippi Mud," he draws a direct line from Jim Crow and the Deep South to the present by investigating his grandfather's and father's arcs by way of The Great Migration through a country that does not want them anywhere. "rbg" has him asking, "Who the fuck are you? Who the fuck am I?," and it's clear he's really asking, "Why are you here and what is your purpose?' "Jungle Book" hits harder, with Kinsey commenting on the futile and seemingly endless spectre of police brutality by making it personal with the opening line, "Today I heard the cops shot a man with my last name." "ring ring" is pure pleasure, although with Kinsey smoothly asking, "How's your mind doin'? How's your Mama doin'? How's your heart doin'? How's your karma doin'?"and the groove is at once silky, engaging and seductive.
Part of what is so surprising about the recording is that it has a pristine subtlety and a lack of naked fury. Sure, "Jungle Book" ( to use an example ) has rage, but the way Kinsey puts it across is though an edge in his voice rather than shouting, and the effect is entirely hypnotic. ( His vocals remind me of the late Bobby Blue Bland. ) Blackie may be an introspective recording from an unexpected place, and it may also be the most literate popular music we've gotten in ages ( Kinsey is a librarian by day ), but it's also the one recording that I want to share with my 81-year-old father.