25+ Years of Tegan and Sara

Like most aging people I’m starting to realize just how long my favorite artists have been around. For example the iconic band Tegan and Sara have been making music since 1995, recording on cassette tapes. If you don’t know them, Canadian twins Tegan and Sara Quin have been vitally important to building a more mainstream LGBTQ music scene. Their music has the earworm elements of pop music and an unapologetically sapphic core – and recently they’ve grown more reflective about their public image.

Their early music, starting in about 2002, quickly gained popularity in Canada and with teen listeners, featuring albums The Con and Sainthood. Both albums were generally acclaimed as their sound both matured and experimented. It was the seventh album that was perhaps the most successful, and the one I know best: Heartthrob in 2013, followed by Love You to Death in 2016. This is where their indie pop sound really hit its stride with songs like Boyfriend and Closer, featuring danceable beats mixed with melancholy feelings. Incidentally this is also where I heard I’m Not Your Hero, whose hook will forever live in my head rent-free: “I’m not their hero / but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t brave”.

This is a band that doesn’t forget its past: in 2017 their big tour and promotion was celebrating 10 years since the release of The Con (including the creation of an album of other artists’ versions called The Con X: Covers) and in 2019 they released Hey I’m Just Like You, which shares recordings of songs they initially wrote as teenagers. The influence of rock and punk bands like Nirvana, Hole, or the Smashing Pumpkins is more apparent here, and the album as a whole reads more pop-punk than their more recent compositions. In the same spirit they made an all-acoustic version of their 2004 album, So Jealous, which was released as Still Jealous in February.

But the big news of recent years was the release of High School, a memoir about their experiences coming-of-age, which was adapted into a TV series on Amazon Freevee. Viewers are offered a glimpse into a teenager’s life in the early 2000s including the pains of exploring your sexuality and deciding who you want to be. This is definitely a band for you if you’re someone into memoir, legacy, and writing your own history. They’re also politically engaged, passionate activists for causes including cancer research and LGBTQ rights.

This year they released the all-new Crybaby with a new record label. Written during the pandemic, this is the album that nearly wasn’t: originally they were recording standalone singles I Can’t Grow Up and All I Wanted, but were inspired to spin the two into a whole album — luckily for all of us that need more T&S in our lives.

If you like indie music, are a longtime fan, or want exposure to more LGBTQ music artists, definitely listen to some Tegan and Sara today.

My Favorite Books as Taylor Swift’s New Album

Recently Taylor Swift’s new album Midnights snagged all top ten spots on the US Billboard charts, a major and unprecedented coup. On a more personal note, I’ve had at least one of the songs from the album stuck in my head on and off since I first listened to the album — and you probably have too, if you’ve listened to it. So I decided to make lemonade from lemons and tell you how my English major brain has associated songs from Midnights with different books. All the books (and very soon the album) are available for checkout from our library, so you can double-check my findings for yourself.

“So real, I’m damned if I do give a damn what people say / No deal, the 1950s shit they want for me / I just wanna stay in that lavender haze”

When I listen to Lavender Haze I hear love that pushes against expectations and conventions for what a relationship should look like, and therefore think immediately of The Love Study by Kris Ripper, which is only the first of a trilogy all about relationships outside of conventional norms, and about customizing your relationship to what works for you.

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“The burgundy on my t-shirt when you splashed your wine onto me / And how the blood rushed into my cheeks, so scarlet, it was / The mark you saw on my collarbone, the rust that grew between telephones / The lips I used to call home, so scarlet, it was maroon”

Maroon to me is about a vivid, passionate love that ended, and is remembered, as vividly as it lived. For sheer emotional power, and the strength of love and memory, this song has to be The King of Infinite Space by Lyndsay FayeThis book is an unforgettable Hamlet retelling with a powerful (and, spoilers, doomed) love at its core.

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“It’s me / Hi! / I’m the problem, it’s me / At teatime / Everybody agrees / I’ll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror / It must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero”

Antihero is the song I (and many others) can’t get out of our heads — it’s catchy, self-aware, self-destructive, and self-deprecating, with paranoid fear of losing relationships and (for me anyway) a hint of glamour. What it made me think of is my favorite romance book of all time, Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall (the sequel, Husband Material, works as well) because of its self-deprecating humor, self-destructive tendencies, and an unforgettableness not unlike an earworm.

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“Are we falling like / Snow at the beach / Weird but it was beautiful / Flying in a dream / Stars by the pocketful / You wanting me / Tonight / Feels impossible / But it’s comin’ down, no sound, it’s all around”

Snow on the Beach is all dreamlike, surreal vibes, with a star-crossed type romance running through it, which for me echoes the magical realism in One Last Stop by Casey McQuistonOur lovable leads in that book find themselves in a similarly bizarre situation which they end up embracing.

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“What’s a girl gonna do? A diamond’s gotta shine / Best believe I’m still bejeweled when I walk in the room / I can still make the whole place shimmer”

Now, I fully believe you’ll have a better pick for this one, but Bejeweled‘s theme of claiming your power from a repressive relationship made me think of In Deeper Waters by FT Lukens, because among other things this book is about the main character embracing his power and identity and breaking free from fear and repression, and I just love to see it.

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“Sweet like honey, karma is a cat / Purring in my lap ’cause it loves me / Flexing like a goddamn acrobat / Me and karma vibe like that”

Okay, another unconventional pick, but the smugness of Karma, waiting for the other shoe to drop, reminded me of An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good by Helene Tursten. Our elderly protagonist is similarly convinced of the justice of her actions – to very entertaining effect.

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“Everyone’s up to somethin’ / I find myself runnin’ home to your sweet nothings / Outside, they’re push and shovin’ / You’re in the kitchen hummin’ / All that you ever wanted from me was sweet nothin'”

Sweet Nothing is about finding a haven and home in someone who doesn’t burdern you with the expectations and pressure you receive everywhere else, which for me had to be The Bookseller’s Boyfriend by Heidi CullinanAlso a cautionary tale about celebrity and social media, the romance in this book is all about an overworked, overwhelmed person finding rest in another’s company.

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“So I told you none of it was accidental / And the first night that you saw me, nothing was gonna stop me / I laid the groundwork and then saw a wide smirk / On your face, you knew the entire time / You knew that I’m a mastermind / And now you’re mine”

Not exactly the same vibe, but Mastermind‘s ending, when the singer realizes that though they thought they were being subtle, they were actually transparent to their partner, reminded me of Love is for Losers by Wibke Brueggemann, in which another scheming narrator discovers the joy of being known and accepted for all your faults.

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Let us know, do you agree with my associations? Which books would you pick?

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

It’s proven that reading fiction about people different from us helps us build empathy and understanding – Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki was a powerful example of this for me. I feel I know so much more about trans women’s experiences and Asian culture in California after reading this book. It’s also a genre-bending, compassionate, hopeful look at Faustian bargains, intergalactic refugees, and family of all kinds.

Violinist Shizuka Satomi has a deal with Hell – she’ll win back her soul and her ability to play music if she delivers seven souls to Hell. After years of work she’s carefully selected, molded, and delivered six, with just enough time before her deadline for the last one. But her final student isn’t what she expected – Katrina Nguyen is an abused, terrified runaway, a trans girl with no confidence, no hope, and nowhere to go. But when she plays her violin, the music is indescribable. Shizuka takes Katrina into her home and starts to teach her, only to find her own world and heart irrevocably changed by this unexpected and gentle girl. At the same time, she finds herself growing closer to the enigmatic Lan Tran, owner of a donut shop, mother of four, and alien refugee in disguise. All three women have battles to fight, and will have to lean on each other and learn to let go of their pasts to find a new way forward.

There are so many reasons to love this book, from the descriptive prose to the vivid characters. It’s an unflinching portrait of a trans girl’s experiences, but hopeful at every turn, flouting tropes, conventions, and the expectations you might have for a book about trauma and deals with the devil. There’s all kinds of families on offer here, including found family helping each other heal from their old wounds, choosing kindness, connection, and tender care over fear and conflict. The blend of genres is innovative and mostly effective, as the supernatural melds with sci-fi and contemporary fiction, with a hint of sapphic romance. Aoki not only makes these elements stand together, but also uses the combination to hold up a mirror to our complex, diverse society that struggles to see, understand, and respect the myriad experiences being lived around us. Perhaps most powerful is the strong thread of feminism running through the story as multiple women grapple with generational trauma and patriarchy that has been harming them, and find their own way out and into a place of power and self-trust.

If you like stories of classical musicians finding their voice, urban sci-fi, Good Omens-style fantasy, pacifist themes, the young and old teaching each other valuable lessons, and/or queer romances and coming of age stories, this would be a great book for you.

Super Monster by Claud

Support a non-binary artist and discover some catchy new music on Super Monster by Claud.  How to describe their style? Well, here’s what they say on their website: “claud mintz (they/them) makes the kind of pop that goes well with a late night snack.”

If that doesn’t clear it up for you, here’s my take: this is a pop sound similar to twin icons Tegan and Sara, and the California band Muna, but also with shades of Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish. With simple hooks and honest lyrics, Claud combines soft, musing ballads with more fast-paced, playful tracks for a mix that is overall optimistic, affectionate, vulnerable, and proudly queer. Listeners will be drawn in by bright, quirky album art and intriguing song titles including “Cuff Your Jeans” and “That’s Mr. Bitch to You”.

Incidentally, “That’s Mr. Bitch To You” is probably my favorite track for its light-hearted energy in response to hate (definitely my new personal anthem) – but most tracks are relaxing and enjoyable to listen to. I also recommend “Overnight” and “Falling with the Rain” for more romantic vibes, and “Ana” for a lost-love story.  Most tracks will leave you humming for the rest of the day, and the lack of cynicism will keep you coming back for more.

Freegal Music Celebrates Mother’s Day

It’s the time of year when everyone starts thinking about their parents, as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, National Parents Day (4th Sunday in July), and Non-Binary Parents Day (3rd Sunday in April) help us kick off the spring and summer seasons. This May, Freegal Music, the digital music service we subscribe to as a library, has made a special playlist to help you celebrate the mothers in your life.

A refresher on Freegal: it’s available both on our website (linked under Digital Content) and as a downloadable app for your smartphone. On its website, once you log in with your Davenport library card it’s free to stream any available songs, albums, playlists, or audiobooks, but you can also download five songs per week for offline listening.

The mother’s day 46-song playlist includes a variety of artists, genres, and styles, from pop (Meghan Trainor) and country (Carrie Underwood) to R&B (Alicia Keys) and international music (Bad Bunny). So however you and the mothers you know like to jam, there’s something here to put you in a grateful, celebratory mood.

Dava Shastri’s Last Day by Kirthana Ramisetti

Domestic fiction is one of my favorite subgenres, especially novels that are set in situations that are different than my normal life. Domestic fiction is usually written by, for, and about women. It is also usually told through multiple viewpoints. My latest read fits all the above criteria!

Dava Shastri’s Last Day tells the story of Dava Shastri and her family. Dava Shastri is one of the world’s wealthiest women. Devastated by a brain cancer diagnosis at the age of seventy, Dava is determined to approach her death like she approaches everything else in her life – with planning and determination.

Dava’s reputation has always been important to her. She wants her name to live on for generations. Both her public and private legacies are of utmost importance, but her family members don’t feel quite as strong about keeping the Shastri name alive.

Dava summons her four adult children, their spouses, and children to her private island where she tells them her news. In addition to having a terminal illness, Dava has also arranged for the news of her death to be released early, so that she can read the obituaries and articles written about her before she dies. Since she spent her life dedicated to the arts and to the empowerment of women, Dava expected that the articles written after her death would focus on those topics. Instead she finds the articles to be significantly more scandalous, focusing on two secrets that have the power to destroy her life, secrets she hoped would stay buried forever.

Now that her secrets are published, her children know and the fallout is not great. Dava must use what little time she has left to come to terms with the life she has lived and the various decisions that have led her to this point.  Most importantly she must use that time to talk it out with her family and make peace with their past, present, and future.

This book is also available in the following format:

Filling Gaps: expanding our LGBTQ music offerings

When ordering music CDs, I aim to have something for everyone so that our collection represents our whole community. Lately I’ve been working on expanding our LGBTQ CDs with these hidden gems that may have been overlooked when they were first released. If you’re looking for a new dance, pop, or singer-songwriter obsession, look no farther than these underground classics. (And if you’re disappointed Lil Nas X isn’t on this list, I’m still waiting for a physical CD to be released, but never fear – Montero is available now on our Freegal digital music service! It’s free to log in with your library card and PIN number, so don’t miss out on all the great offerings there as well.)

If I Could Make it Go Quiet is the third album by Girl in Red, the musical project of Norwegian singer-songwriter Marie Ulven. Her passionate following considers her a prominent voice of lesbian and sapphic women in music. She has an indie pop sound and has focused primarily on songs about romance and mental health; this album apparently focuses on the idea that there are things you’d like to say to others but say only to yourself instead.

 

Chris by Christine and the Queens is the sophomore album from Christine and the Queens, alter ego of French singer Heloise Letissier. It was released in both English and French versions (ours is only the English version) and is a defiant, though emotionally nuanced, exploration of Letissier’s identity as a queer feminist woman claiming her feelings of power.

 

About U is the debut album by Muna, another iconic group for lesbian and sapphic women, well-known for tracks like I Know a Place. It’s pop vibe is dark and 80s-inspired, using strong hooks and lyrical melodies to trace life’s sometime’s dramatic ups and downs. Muna as a band portrays real life experiences of its LA-based trio of LGBTQ women and doesn’t shy away from political statements.

 

Bold by Mary Lambert is a pop album by the honest, unapologetic singer featured on Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ famous track Same Love – an unprecedented song explicitly arguing for marriage equality which also acted as a major break in Lambert’s career. She later used it to develop her own song She Keeps Me Warm. Bold is her third EP, bursting with bright, danceable tracks.

 

99.9% by Kaytranada is the highly-rated 2016 debut album for the gay Haitian-Canadian producer and DJ, also known as Louis Kevin Celestin from Montreal. All 15 songs on the R&B album were written by the artist, and almost all were produced by him as well. A wide range of guest artists appear on the tracks, and Kaytranada also included samples of several other works in his tracks.

 

Choreography by Bright Light Bright Light is an energetic dance album by the Welsh-born, NYC-based artist (also known as Rod Thomas) which features collaborations with Elton John, Alan Cumming, and the Scissor Sisters. Bright Light Bright Light’s work has been called electropop, house, or nu-disco, and this album is just a tiny sampling of the performer’s prolific body of work.

Upcoming Albums from LGBTQ Artists

Don’t miss these albums from iconic artists of the LGBTQ community, coming soon!

The Lockdown Sessions by Elton John is a collection of collaborations that the British singer recorded remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, featuring Miley Cyrus, Lil Nas X, Stevie Nicks, and many more. The tracks cover a variety of genres and moods for a truly eclectic mix. Personally, I can vouch for this album because I’ve already heard a few of the tracks, including Chosen Family (absolutely gorgeous track with a great message) and Nothing Else Matters (gives me chills every time). If you, like me, spent time in quarantine singing along to everything and making playlists, you might relate to this album!

Broken Hearts and Beauty Sleep by Mykki Blanco is the new album from non-binary boundary pusher Mykki Blanco, melding hip hop and rap with club and trap sounds as well as experimental elements. I’m excited for this one because I love more publicity for non-binary artists, AND I just recently discovered this artist through their essay in The Queer Bible (an excellent book!).

 

To discover other LGBTQ artists, try:

Halsey’s If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power – their most recent album which was accompanied by a film released on HBO Max, and which wrestles with the suffocating side of love, pregnancy, creation, destruction and how we claim and use power.

 

 

Brandi Carlile’s In These Silent Days : the 2021 offering from a country and folk rock staple. Encompassing both intimate contemplation and defiantly rollicking tunes, it’s an album exploring the full breadth of Carlile’s skill and power, with echoes of Elton John and Joni Mitchell, according to critics.

Black Genius, in its Own Words

Today I’m highlighting several things I’ve recently ordered for the library that I think will add beauty and insight to our collection – focused on the experience of African-Americans, including full measures of joy, grief, hope, shame, love, and vulnerability. Have your own reading or listening suggestions? Tell us in the comments!

 Dreams of a New Day: Songs by Black Composers features baritone vocals and piano accompaniment over eight tracks by black composers, many with lyrics by eminent poet Langston Hughes.

 

 

You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience is an anthology curated by Tarana Burke and Brene Brown, meant to act as a counterpart to Brown’s famous works on vulnerability.

 

 

 

Life, I Swear: Intimate Stories from Black Women on Identity, Healing, and Self-Trust by Chloe Dulce Louvouezo is an illustrated collection of essays inspired by a podcast and telling the stories of prominent Black women’s journeys to self-love and healing.

 

 

 

For more recently-published celebrations of the Black experience, try:

Love in Color by Bolu Babalola, a striking retelling of myths, especially from West Africa, but drawing from folklore traditions around the world.

Black Magic by Chad Sanders, on the resilience and confidence the author gained from navigating America as a Black man, and how it contributed to his career success.

We Are Each Others’ Harvest by Natalie Baszile, detailing and celebrating the past and present of African-American farming, including how American culture has been shaped by these connections to the land.

The Disordered Cosmos by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a combination love letter to science and vision for a more inclusive scientific community, criticizing harmful systems which are in place.

Read Until You Understand by Farrah Jasmine Griffin, which dives into historical records of Black genius, from Malcolm X to Stevie Wonder to Toni Morrison, to show the wisdom of Black culture.

Music Hype: Human by OneRepublic

This album has been hovering on the horizon for months now, as I waited to order it until a release date was officially announced. Now, it’s finally here! So let’s talk about OneRepublic: who they are, how they got here, and how we feel about their latest offering: Human.

OneRepublic is an American pop band formed in 2002. I know many of us in the millennial and maybe Gen X camps grew up listening to Apologize and Stop and Stare from their first album Dreaming Out Loud – both of which became massive hits around the world. Apologize in particular became iconic after being remixed by Timbaland.

All the Right Moves was the big hit from their second album, Waking Up, from 2009. Other earworms included Secrets and Good Life. More recently a lot of people found they’d accidentally memorized all the words to Counting Stars, the hit song from 2013’s album, Native. Their fourth album was Oh My My in 2016 and it was a major departure in their sound, producing singles Wherever I Go and Kids.

Human has been delayed a number of times (and I’m sure COVID was part of it), but there have been singles released from it to build hype, including Rescue Me and Wanted. According to some critics, this makes the album feel more like a time capsule than a new release: Rescue Me came out in 2019, which as we all know was a very different emotional moment than 2021. But there’s still a lot to love including the upbeat anthem Run and yearning track Distance, which echoes some of the band’s classic vibes. Speaking for myself, a band than can do soulful, emotional, and danceable all equally well is definitely worth following, and OneRepublic has a very strong track record to recommend them.

If you’re looking for a solid pop album that captures some nostalgia and some optimism, you might want to try OneRepublic’s Human, finally available for checkout.