Tegan and Sara, Fever Ray and PVA highlight new October music

The best, spookiest and most daring new queer tracks from the past month

Welcome to the October installment of Monthly Tune-Up! Halloween, horror movies, costumes and all things creepy—it’s my absolutely favourite time of the year (and no surprise that, aside from Pride month, it’s also debatably the gayest time of the year). My spirit comes alive around all things (un)dead and covered in corn-syrup blood. This month, I’ve got a couple of spooky tunes for you to incorporate into your last-minute Halloween party playlists, as well as a variety of new releases, including pop from Canadian icons Tegan and Sara, flirtatious pop/R&B from BAYLI and even gentle folk from ally and WLW favourite, Hozier. Happy Halloween! I hope that the only scary thing you’ll have to experience is an easily fixable costume wardrobe malfunction.

“What They Call Us”—Fever Ray

Kicking off October’s list is the eerie and spooky “What They Call Us” from queer, gender-fluid Swedish musician Fever Ray, also known as Karin Dreijer. Accompanied by a horror-esque music video in which Dreijer appears sunken-eyed and ghoulish as they wander through a bleakly lit office, the song is dark, spacey and atmospheric, a spot-on sonic representation of the visuals. Their voice possesses a husky, almost metallic-like quality that strongly asserts itself over a stream of blinking keyboards and pounding drums. Minimalistic production and haunting lyrics highlighting a chilling sense of anxiety creates a bewitching audial experience, one that offers a perfect nocturnal atmosphere for Halloween. 

“act up”—BAYLI

Sexy, flirty and lovestruck, “act up” by queer Brooklyn–born artist BAYLI is an ode to being in love with someone who is “strong, sexy, independent and a go-getter.” A funky R&B bassline grooves in the background to a strutting, runway-esque beat while BAYLI sings sweetly about the feisty woman she’s smitten with, willing to do anything for her and secretly loving it when she “acts up,” even through the roller coaster of ups and downs that come with new love. The song may be a shorter one and will leave you begging for more, but it packs a wholesome, glamorous punch that will cast an enchanting love spell on whoever listens to it.

“Swan Upon Leda”—Hozier

 

Hozier is a cis/straight ally, but that hasn’t stopped his dedicated fan base of queer women from crowning him as the “lesbian king”—like Bruce Springsteen, Hozier also falls into the category of cishetero male musicians who make music that speaks to a WLW audience (and with queer anthems like “Take Me to Church” under his belt, how could he not?). The Irish singer-songwriter is back with his lead single, “Swan Upon Leda,” from his upcoming album, Unreal Unearth. The song uses the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan to parallel the current attack on reproductive rights and access to safe abortions, as well as the patriarchal systems that keep them in place. Lush, naturistic orchestral instrumentals and poetic lyrics are Hozier’s strong suit, and “Swan Upon Leda” shows him utilizing his strengths in full force. It’s the softest, most soothing protest song you’ve likely heard in a long while. 

“Don’t Give Up”—Black Belt Eagle Scout

“Don’t Give Up” is Katherine Paul of Black Belt Eagle Scout’s first new release since her 2019 album At the Party with My Brown Friends. The queer Swinomish singer-songwriter wrote the song over the course of two years, starting at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. The outcome of this labour of love is a gentle, five-minute ballad about mental health awareness, as well as an ode to the ways that land and the environment play an important role in Paul’s own mental health journey. Billowy vocals, a whirring mellotron and cinematic acoustic guitars come together to create a mood of catharsis, like taking a healing walk through nature to clear your head. It’s a captivating autumnal song that will soothe both your spirit and eardrums.

“Whatever That Was”—Tegan and Sara

Everyone’s favourite Calgary-born indie pop twins Tegan and Sara are back with their milestone tenth album, Crybaby. The LP’s closing track, “Whatever That Was,” sounds like the evolved lovechild of two of the band’s previous projects: Sainthood (2009) and Heartthrob (2013), a treat for fans old and new of the band. The result is a concoction of soft rock and hypnotic lo-fi. It’s a quiet, subtle grand finale to a mostly upbeat pop record, a rumination on a failed relationship that ultimately offers some catharsis and freedom, even through the heartache. The slow beating pulse and sombre chords allow “Whatever That Was” to sit in its sadness, but it also allows room for growth and maturity, the perfect end credits to an album named Crybaby. 

“:/”—Johanna Warren

If anyone knows how this new Johanna Warren song is supposed to be pronounced, hit me up, because I haven’t got a clue. Whatever the case, I love the infectious ’90s bedroom rock exuded on this track. Coming off of the queer non-binary singer/songwriter’s new album Lessons for Mutants, “:/” is simple and grungy with its two-chord progression. Warren’s singing is brooding with bitterness as she warbles, yodels and contorts her vocals in a way that is so pleasant on the ears. Lyrically, the song seems to take place in the immediate aftermath of a breakup where Warren finds herself still reeling and collecting her thoughts, and the little face of disappointment in the title sums up those sour emotions. 

“Kim”—PVA

PVA’s debut album BLUSH is an acid trip of warped electronica and abrasive, avant-garde pop. The South London trio, comprised of Ella Harris, Louis Satchell and Josh Baxter, conjure up some major queer femme fatale energy on “Kim,” a dark, underground club banger. Scratchy guitar licks, reverberating synths, mammoth percussion and a sensual spoken-sung vocal performance, the sounds of “Kim” bewitch listeners just as much as the mysterious woman being sung about. “Sometimes I feel like a man,” Harris drawls, adding another layer of queerness to the electropop dance track. If you’re heading to any sexy Halloween raves that will keep you dancing until the early morning, this is a song that definitely needs to be blasted through floor-to-ceiling-length speakers.

Jordan Currie (she/her) is a writer and Xtra's Associate Editor, Audience Engagement. She has written for Xtra, Exclaim!, New Feeling, Wavelength Music and others.

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