“The amiable embrace of ambivalence distinguishes Greg Goldberg and Craig Willse’s output as the Ballet from the work of their funny musical uncles, like the Magnetic Fields’ implacably ironic Stephin Merritt, the Hidden Cameras’ riot auteur Joel Gibb, even fairy godfathers Pet Shop Boys.” Pitchfork [7.6]
"Big, confident pop songs that fizz with melody" Music OMH [4/5]
Formed in 2005 by Greg Goldberg and Craig Willse, The Ballet marry wry poeticism with pop romanticism and a queer DIY ethos to create literate, infectious pop gems. The band self-released their first two albums: Mattachine! (2006) and Bear Life (2009). These records caught the attention of indie-label-legends Fortuna Pop!, who released their third album, I Blame Society, in 2013. After FortunaPop! closed shop, The Ballet partnered with Fika Recordings, who released their fourth album, the critically acclaimed Matchy Matchy, in 2019.
The Ballet have been joined by a few other musicians over the years including Ginger Brooks Takahashi and Michael O'Neill, who left in 2007 to join JD Sampson in MEN, as well as guest appearances on previous albums from Linton of The Aislers Set, Ramesh from Voxtrot, Scott Matthew, and Kaki King.
In addition to citing Stephin Merritt as a formative influence, Goldberg—who writes and home-records all of the band’s songs—draws from an array of pop artists and periods; from 60’s bubblegum to 80’s synthpop and 90’s indiepop, fusing these genres in sophisticated and novel ways.
On the Ballet’s new album, Daddy Issues, listeners may spot musical nods to the Velvet Underground, Frankie and Annette, Squeeze, Billy Idol, Lenny Kravitz, the Gothic Archies, Belle and Sebastian, and New Order, among others. Goldberg gravitates towards upbeat tempos, major keys, and basic chords, using these restrictions to craft simple, catchy melodies while also layering instruments in a way that keeps the ear engaged and rewards repeat listening.
The relatively light and smooth sound of Daddy Issues sets the tone for Goldberg’s unorthodox approach to his subject matter. As with previous Ballet albums, Daddy Issues offers a detail-rich examination of contemporary queer life, with a particular focus on the stigmatised desires, pleasures, and relations of gay men. Many queer artists have responded defensively to stigmatisation by asserting the political or psychological value of queer sex. Goldberg’s approach is different. Rather than defending queer sex, he aims to capture some of its complexity and nuance.
On Daddy Issues, Goldberg’s songs describe the appeal but also the challenges of promiscuity and non-monogamy (“Eenie Meenie,” “Two Boyfriends”). His songs find humour in the mundane “dangers” of queer life (“I’m on Drugs,” “At the Bathhouse”) and in the queer juxtaposition of perversion and gentleness (“Daddy’s Boy,” “CumDumpMike”).
An extramarital affair is treated with the levity of a teenage crush, and masculinity is characterised as both hot and somewhat tedious (“A Married Man”). The narrators of Goldberg’s songs are hedonists who go dancing all night, use illicit substances, and have anonymous, public sex, but they also express loneliness, regret, melancholy, and self-loathing (“Since You’ve Been Gone,” “The Fountain of Youth,” “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing”). To use such negative feelings to stigmatise gayness is homophobic, but so is denying their existence. Daddy Issues avoids both these pitfalls, instead capturing the co-existence of ecstasy and agony with humour, tenderness, and a lack of judgment.
The album’s title references a popular psychological diagnosis for people who are supposedly looking for surrogate fathers in their sexual or romantic partners, but it also suggests the issues of so-called daddies (older gay men). Rather than offering an ethnographic or autobiographical account of what it’s like to be a daddy, Daddy Issues offers a meditation on the role of daddy, inviting listeners to imagine themselves in relation to it in various ways, while also questioning its coherence and stability.
After all, nobody is born a daddy; it is something one becomes (or doesn’t become), feels like (or doesn’t feel like), and is seen as (or isn’t seen as), if only for the duration of an album.
released May 26, 2023
The Ballet is Greg Goldberg and Craig Willse.
Daddy Issues was written, arranged, and recorded at home by Greg in Middletown, CT.
Mastered by Fred Thomas.
Art and design by Max Wittert.