Review Summary: 30 minutes of technicolor queer-hearted quavering, or: how to convert shame into celebration.
I don’t know how to begin.
I feel uniquely unqualified to critique this album. As a cis-gendered man with only modest bi-curiosity, I simply lack the perspective to fully identify with this heartfelt tale of non-hetero sexuality and identity. And yet, therein lies the magic of “Cast Iron Pansexual:” the artist is able pen hymns of such wit, such warmth, such naked yearning and passion, that just about anyone whose been made to feel a lonesome outsider in some walk of life can not only connect with the album, but be genuinely moved by it.
To tears, even.
With a tender drawl and a dusty guitar, Adeem The Artist’s “Cast Iron Pansexual” explores love, longing, and queer identity with a deft hand and biting wit that you simply won’t find anywhere else. If artists like Sturgill Simpson are reinventing the sound of modern country, artists like Adeem are reinventing its soul. What’s so powerful about this album isn’t its instrumentation – which is simple, tuneful, and invitingly catchy throughout – but the ways in which it explores its subject matter. Laid bare with a naked vulnerability and dry wit, Adeem The Artist captures all of the loneliness, doubt, and nervous laughter tied up in the queer experience in vivid color.
Or at least I suspect as much – I cannot fully sympathize, given my own identity - but the songwriting here is so strong that you’ll find Adeem doing most of the leg work for you. Despite its simplistic structure, the writing is complicated in its emotional content: you’ll find yourself on the hook for every next verse, line, and syllable. Not a single one is wasted. In spite of its wit and levity there is a solitary sentimentality to “Cast Iron Pansexual” that distinguishes it as a gem of human experience, going toe-to-toe with Nick Cave or Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy in terms of raw, personal catharsis.
“Apartment” is an early highlight – in just three minutes and verses it delivers you to a place of crushing sorrow in which your love for a friend goes unrequited, like a dark and crooked secret, simply because you weren’t born into a body of their desired sex. Ringing clear as a sad, lonely bell, Adeem The Artist demonstrates their songwriting talents in making this uniquely queer experience relatable and crushing to listeners of any background:
“We are alone in this apartment, with an old bottle of gin…”
“I am eager and desperate to touch your skin…”
“And if I was a woman, would you want to hold me then?”
However, this album isn’t singular in focus. It could be: Adeem The Artist has the focus, perspective, and talent to pen a single-issue thesis. But there is more to this artist than just sexuality and identity. A deep love for and critical eye towards back country American culture is as much a central theme of this album as the artist’s personal identity. “Womyn Who Bartend” is a clever, heartfelt ode to every hard-working, beer pouring saint behind every dive bar to dot the American Midwest. Penned with sharp wit, yet structured and played off almost like a lullaby, it serves as a casual Country nod to the folks so often overlooked by their own patriarchal blue-collar culture.
But before the end the focus turns back to matters of the heart in the singular “Reclaim My Name.” In it, the artist dives into their painful childhood and upbringing, plagued by shame and doubt. By scornful parents and awkward pool days and the persistent feeling of alienation borne of being born into the wrong body. Do not be misled, however, as this song is not an exercise of grief, but of growth, ringing out all the sweeter for it:
“I’ve been trying to build a machine,”
“That can convert shame into celebration,”
“I’ll go back in time and reclaim my name…”
They then turn the key and the engine sputters to life, chugging with an endearing vitality. Relentless in its drive to move forward. Its very existence defiant of the toxic ignorance that left another you, a younger you, puttering alone in the dark.
It’s here for you. Not to carry you off to a better tomorrow – but to deliver you to the past you always deserved. Awash in all of the love you were too afraid to give yourself. The engine cuts out and the guitar strums its last chord; soft, sweet, and not so alone after all.
And yet…I struggle. I’m not good enough to review this album. Not because I am a (mostly) straight CIS man. But because I am lacking as a writer about excellent, important music. Which is precisely what this is. Even after three years of practice and a few high-profile reviews under my belt – it isn’t enough. Adeem The Artist deserves more. They deserve a whole ballroom of enraptured, lonely souls, smiling in glassy eyed awe. They deserve compassion and understanding and joy.
They deserve love.