Teri Gender Bender channels Kate Bush, Suzi Quatro and Siouxsie Sioux on Le Butcherettes’ latest, bi/MENTAL
Artist: Le Butcherettes
Recording: bi/MENTAL Label: Rise Records
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
In an era populated by a profusion of wonderful women making music of every stripe, Le Butcherettes’ singer and founder Teri Gender-Bender (née Teresa Suárez) is in a category of her own.
One recent project saw the singer/guitarist collaborating with two members of grunge godfathers The Melvins in the rumbly Crystal Fairy. But it’s leading the band she founded—Le Butcherettes—where Gender-Bender’s authority, mutability and vulnerability shine.
The lineup—two men, two women—has been around for a decade, initially launching as a “Mexican garage punk band.” bi/MENTAL, the band’s fourth full-length, is a stunner, with roots in garage/punk, but marking an important creative leap not unlike Nirvana’s between Bleach and Nevermind. Topically dealing with her mother’s mental illness and the trauma it caused, the music is as haunting and haunted as the lyrics.
Produced by Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison, the thirteen diverse, detailed, darkly alternative songs are exalted by Gender Bender’s confident, varied delivery. On “spider/WAVES,” featuring activist/Dead Kennedy’ Jello Biafra, Gender Bender uses her voice at times like Kate Bush–a trilling quaver—then goes almost powerfully metal, akin to Evanescence’s Amy Lee. The song is epic, with Biafra’s spoken-word cantankerous contribution well-utilized.
Other cool entries include the bluesy slide guitar and roughshod, emotive musical psychedelia of “give/UP,” and “little/MOUSE,” which is more straight-ahead alt/hard rock, a genre not a lot of women specialize in. On “father/ELOHIM” she’s got the bold, brassiness of a Suzi Quatro, and in fact, is always bold in exploring every facet of her voice and delivery. Gender Bender would probably even shine in an intimate dusky ballad a la Nina Simone, if the creepy-cool of “/BREATH” is any indication. Ultimately, nothing on bi/MENTAL is ordinary or expected, and the choice of Harrison at the helm makes this record one to listen to with headphones on… though maybe not alone in the dark.
One song may contain many moods: “in/THE END” starts off with near-a capella, “little girl” stripped-down vocals, moving into an easygoing, ballady melodicism, before building into a catchy full band musicality. But, of course, there’s a twist; a creepy echoey cacophony under the vocals about three-quarters of the way into the song creates an odd, spectral aura.
The more experimental, and at times electronic, musicality of struggle/STRUGGLE” is not as accessible as other tunes, but it’s no less affecting and fascinating. In fact, Le Butcherettes put out an EP with three versions of “STRUGGLE,” Gender Bender explaining: “The struggle is never ending. As a latina woman, the constant battle within a steaming pool of perverted wagging tongues becomes a part of life which on a sadly angled upside only makes for thicker skin… yet none of those struggles can compare to the internal fight of self versus m/other, m/other versus your world.
With the quirky creativity of a Bjork, a touch of the goth sensibility and strict enunciation of Siouxsie Sioux (especially on songs like “nothing/BUT TROUBLE”), Gender Bender is a sylph-like musical shape-shifter. She sings in Spanish on “la/SANDIA,” and brings punk icon Alice Bag on board for the harrowing “mother/HOLDS” where, amidst a backdrop of anguished screams, Gender Bender chillingly sings “Mother holds my only lifeline / Won’t you take her away?” On bi/MENTAL the listener is a lucky if awestruck witness to the musical exploration and exorcism of one woman’s familial demons.
This is goodbye, farewell to all the known godsends the album with the finality of a mic drop/car crash… a last breath.
VIDEO: “struggle/STRUGGLE” – Le Butcherettes