The Midwest has long had a reputation for being inhospitable to LGBTQ+ people. The fight for equality in the Midwest is ongoing (not that it’s ever complete anywhere, even San Francisco), and the states unfriendliest to LGBTQ+ people are mostly in the middle of the country. It’s against this background—queerness in a region that represses and marginalizes it—that Indiana musician Kevin Krauter, bassist of indie-pop trio Hoops, implicitly confronts his sexuality throughout his sophomore solo outing, Full Hand.
“A lot of the lyrics touch on how I was raised religiously, touch on me understanding my sexuality more and more in recent years,” Krauter says in the bio accompanying Full Hand. Religion and queerness have long had a complicated relationship; it’s a push-pull dynamic that’s guided recent cultural touchstones including the penultimate episode of teen drama Sex Education’s second season, Pete Buttigieg’s woeful presidential campaign and Julien Baker’s entire catalog. Religion and society at large often force people to first explore their queerness in the shadows and out of the view of institutions, friends, and loved ones who may or may not support it, and Krauter’s language throughout Full Hand is steeped in this secrecy. Through his word choices, he elides explicit discussions of his sexuality—though it’s important to note that Krauter currently dating a woman doesn’t disqualify his queerness—in favor of vague images that other LGBTQ+ folks might nevertheless interpret as coding foundational queer experiences.
Take “Surprise” as an example. “Sometimes I feel like a guilty pleasure / Sometimes it don’t feel like pleasure at all,” Krauter sings over a gauzy, sprightly mess of synths and dream-pop guitars. This couplet is ambiguous, but queer people might identify in it the agony of dating while you or your partner (or both of you) aren’t yet out: Sneaking around can be fun at first, but it quickly turns exhausting. “Glued to my phone, I’m just trying to hear you / Sweat on the glass burning holes in my hand,” Krauter later sings, adding the nausea of sleuth-texting and waiting for that long overdue reply to the track’s queer adventure.
Krauter tends to write around sexuality rather than addressing it head-on, which often works but sometimes leaves more to be desired. When he sings “I am telling you this like a juvenile in secret / Confident and trusting you to keep it” over the despondent acoustic whispers of “Kept,” he could be coming out to a close friend or confessing to God in a traditionally Christian manner. The ambiguity is charming, with enough wiggle room for listeners to interpret this track’s events as they see fit. Conversely, on the lightly snapping, dawn-fogged ditty “How,” lyrics such as “What a trip to confront the truth inside your heart / Spilling out in the sunset glowing in the dark” aren’t poignant enough to make the question of whether this song is about realizing one’s atheism or queerness all that compelling.
When Krauter occasionally abandons the nebulous for the concrete, Full Hand leaps forth with full potency. “Tell that pretty boy I want to see him dance, dance away,” from single “Pretty Boy,” is the album’s most explicitly queer lyric by a long shot, and Krauter’s aching warble and wistful guitars are as affecting as his wish. On “Piper,” he depicts the apparent calamitousness of a minuscule fashion struggle with lyrical deftness he doesn’t often achieve on Full Hand. “Spent the evening looking in the mirror and tucking my shirt back in / Play with my hair till I throw up both my hands, say ‘fuck it’ and just give in,” he sighs over a plodding keyboard arrangement, and anyone who’s ever cared way too much about appearing to wear proper-fitting clothes (here’s to Queer Eye giving a whole generation of queer people anxiety about the French tuck) will immediately feel seen. Were Krauter to this immaculately detail his struggles with sexuality and religion more often, listeners might find themselves with fuller hands, but halfway there ain’t bad either.
Revisit Kevin Krauter’s Paste session from January: