Le Butcherettes – A Raw Youth

by Matt J. Popham

Purged of the demons she so fiercely exorcised on 2014’s savage and sensational Cry is for the Flies, Le Butcherettes’ founder and frontwoman Teri Gender Bender (nee Suarez) is back with A Raw Youth, a stunning follow-up album that is every bit its predecessor’s equal in power and intensity, yet its complete antithesis in topic and tone. Energetic, invigorating, and accessible where Cry is for the Flies was dark, despairing, and dissonant (even the album’s more tuneful tracks sounded dangerously deranged), A Raw Youth positively blazes with passion and vitality, fearlessly flaunting a host of irresistible rock ‘n’ roll riffs, catchy pop hooks, and singalong melodies. Not that anyone should interpret that as, in any way, signaling a sell-out. There’s still plenty of challenging material here, both in style and substance, and Suarez is as fiery, as uncompromising, and as idiosyncratic as ever. What’s remarkable is how seamlessly – and how satisfyingly – she is able to incorporate these elements into Le Butcherettes’ signature garage punk sound.

The album kicks down the door with “Shave the Pride,” a rousing, literally in-your-face, rocker, in which a boyfriend’s untamed beard evolves into a metaphor for dominance assertion, then spreads out, somewhat surprisingly, into two unabashedly 80’s-inspired pop-rock numbers: the heartfelt and full-throated ode to self-reliance,“My Mallely,” and the bitterly anthemic “Reason to Die Young.” But while the latter song might sound right at home on a Pat Benatar album, its outward aural appeal is belied by its lyrics, which lament a generation driven by a hopeless future to seek meaning in martyrdom. In the same way, the upbeat percussion and bouncy synth-horns of “Sold Less Than Gold” provide a disturbing counterpoint to Suarez’s first-person narrative of teenage sex slavery. The use of mainstream melodies on these tracks is not merely ironic, however. Nor it is it simply a candy shell to make the medicine go down. In each case, it also serves as a disconcerting illustration of the resiliency and adaptability of youth, even in the midst of abject miseries – a reminder as troubling as it is reassuring. Of course, there’s also plenty of youthful piss and vinegar to be found: the aforementioned album opener, the decidedly punky “Oil the Shoe if the Critter Knew Any Better” (yes, that is the title), or the snarling “They Fuck You Over,” which sounds almost like a leftover from the early Kiss or Kill EP. But the album’s most intriguing tracks – and the ones that tip it from “exceptionally good” to “great” – are those in which Suarez indulges her flair for the unusual, as in the haunting, howling invocations of “Witchless C Spot,” the quiet, shifting melancholy of “Lonely and Drunk,” or the jaw-dropping “La Uva,” whose psychedelic lurching sounds like a cross between “Tomorrow Never Knows” and an ancient pagan chant, made all the more ominous by guest-vocalist Iggy Pop’s guttural growls.

Featuring a brand-new, but thoroughly tour-tested back-up band, A Raw Youth also finds Le Butcherettes at its tightest, tensest, and most textured, and the band’s audible chemistry no doubt played a role in facilitating the album’s sonic explorations and experimentations. Chris Common proves a versatile percussionist, equally effective laying back or pounding forward, on or off-beat. And the rolling thunder of Jamie Aaron Aux’s bass provides a pervasive motor and muscle, occasionally even taking the lead and allowing Suarez’s guitars and keyboards to ornament, augment, and accentuate with greater expressive freedom. It may be the best Le Butcherettes ensemble yet. As always, though, it is Suarez’s voice that takes center stage. One of rock’s finest vocalists, as well as one of its most dynamic performers, she can soar above the songs with a commanding resonance reminiscent of Grace Slick, chirp in a fragile falsetto, or hiss as threateningly as Clint Eastwood. After channeling Robert Plant on the blues-y “Stab My Back,” she belts out a Riot Grrl scream on “They Fuck You Over” that Kathleen Hannah would envy. But what really sets Suarez apart is her ability to imbue any song with its own distinct and compelling dramatic character. Her striking vocal theatrics have been evident and abundant in all her musical efforts, but they’re always at their most pronounced on her Le Butcherettes albums, and they’ve never been better than on the last two LP’s. The petulant, coquettish lilt she brings to “Sold Less Than Gold” only makes the song that much more affecting and unsettling. On the phenomenal “The Hitch Hiker,” in which a dialogue between a female hitcher and a predatory driver becomes an allegory for patriarchy and resistance, Suarez plays both parts, alternating frantic desperation with seething menace. And “Lonely and Drunk” allows her to run the gamut from airy self-pity, to deep sorrow, to rage and recrimination. It is her intense vocal commitment to each and every song that brings A Raw Youth so powerfully and vividly to life.

It’s worth noting that, “The Raw Youth” was the original English title given to Dostoevsky’s often overlooked penultimate novel, The Adolescent. Ever fond of the sly literary reference, on A Raw Youth, Suarez seems, not only to be paying homage to Dostoevsky’s portrait of generational conflict, but also throwing down the gauntlet before him. While Dostoevsky consistently condemned the young of his generation as foolishly ambitious, prone to rebellious – and, ultimately, violent and nihilistic – convictions, Suarez has delivered an irresistible collection of engaging and exhilarating songs that, for all their tales of martyrdom, sex slavery, and betrayal, seem to unapologetically celebrate the power of youth – in all its vulnerability, defiance, romanticism, rebellion, and naïveté. And why not…? At only 26, with three superlative albums already under her belt, she is, herself, a prime example of what youthful conviction and energy can accomplish. Having lost not an ounce of her trademark ferocity, on A Raw Youth, Suarez has instead expanded its palette, revealing that what burns at its heart is not nihilism, but a genuine, however incendiary, lust for life. As the man himself said, “Youth is pure, if only because it is youth.” For Suarez, it’s that and much, much more…


Le Butcherettes – Cry is for the Flies

by Matt J. Popham

“There isn’t anyone to help you. Only me. And I’m the Beast.”

It’s hard not to be reminded of William Golding’s savage masterpiece while listening to Le Butcherettes’ brilliant and harrowing “Cry is for the Flies.” The fact that Teresa Suarez (aka Teri Gender Bender), Le Butcherettes’ founder and frontwoman, once achieved a certain notoriety by performing on stage with a severed pig’s head only serves to make one wonder if the evocation is deliberate. The band’s 2011 debut, “Sin Sin Sin,” (a winking bilingual double-entendre) was riddled with literary references after all, name-checking such authors as Tolstoy, Rousseau, Fitzgerald, and Salinger. But while “Lord of the Flies” is never explicitly mentioned on “Cry is for the Flies,” and Suarez has since abandoned most of her gruesome stage theatrics, an urgent, primal menace, reminiscent of Golding’s novel, seethes through her latest collection of songs. Even if the association isn’t intentional, it’s apt.

Mercilessly intense, but undeniably compelling, “Cry is for the Flies” strips Le Butcherettes’ already minimalist punk aesthetic to its bare bones. What’s left is raw, hard, and often unsettling. Gone is the cheerfully serrated mischief of “Sin Sin Sin” with its catchy garage rock hooks and sharp, show-offy lyrics. “Cry is for the Flies” is a darker, subtler, less comfortable listen, but also a stronger, more assured, and more impressive one. From the ominous opener, “Moment of Guilt,” a tautly whispered spoken word prologue by Butcherettes admirer Henry Rollins, through to the throbbing, threatening closer, “Blackhead,” each track is an austere expression of barely contained, but masterfully controlled, madness. Omar Rodriguez Lopez’s bass stalks and growls like a wounded animal over Lia Braswell’s eruptive drumming, creating an unrelenting tension, perfectly punctuated by Suarez’s thundering power chords. Even the album’s more upbeat, keyboard-driven tracks, like “Boulder Love Over Layers of Rock,” or the stunning “Poet From Nowhere,” sound dangerously unhinged: the former like a commercial jingle having a psychotic episode, the latter like a carnival ride careening off the rails.

But ultimately, it’s Suarez’s voice that carries the album and gives it its distinctive, disturbing character. Trading the punk rock screams of her past efforts for more tuneful, but no less impassioned, emotional exorcisms, she commands each song with impressive dramatic range and power. Down and dirty one minute, launching into an off-kilter falsetto the next. A defiant and discordant snarl on the assaultive “Burn the Scab.” A haunting howl on “Your Weakness Gives Me Life.” Wearily dragging the deep end of her lower registers on the wrenching “My Child,” before thinning into reedy, brittle grief. Her vocal theatrics, at every turn, are both jarring and powerfully genuine, delivered with almost terrifying commitment. If Suarez is no longer performing in bloodied butcher’s aprons, or dancing with pig’s heads, it’s not because she’s gone soft or toned it down. It’s because she’s successfully absorbed and integrated such provocative artistic strategies into her singing and songwriting, her fierce intellect now equally matched by a near-demonic musical and emotional ferocity.

“I can’t get at you,” Rollins whispers, as the personification of Guilt.

“Why do you think that is?” the track’s protagonist queries.

“Because you’re a monster,” Guilt replies.

“It took you this long,” says our protagonist, “to figure it out?”

Suarez has figured out her inner monster and delivered it into the world with blood, sweat, and screams. A riveting, ravaging work of striking severity, stark simplicity, and searing sincerity, “Cry is for the Flies” should secure Suarez’s place in the rock pantheon alongside the likes of Patti Smith, Kathleen Hannah, and Sleater-Kinney – gifted music icons and feminist flag-bearers whose influence she wears proudly on her blood-spattered sleeve. Like so many great albums, it’s an original, uncompromising, even brutal work. In short, it’s a Beast. Give it a chance and it will get inside you and swallow you whole. It will become inescapable. And you’ll love every thrilling minute.