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I don’t know about you, but there are some artists that I feel dangerously voyeuristic listening to. Like I’m seeing a part of their psyche that normal people (and certainly I) typically keep behind locked doors. I feel a strong emotional attachment to these artists that are so skilled at crafting music that is thickly detailed with their hopes, dreams, fears and nightmares. I feel a deeper connection with these performers who share these intimate details with me, like I'm someone close to them. Prince. Iggy Pop. Jeffrey Lee Pierce. They not only wrote good music, they also projected their personal manias in a way that remains incredibly vivid.
I went into bi/MENTAL, the latest album by the Mexican band Le Butcherettes, expecting another great punk rock album. While I certainly got that, I had no idea that I would also experience the dark parts of Teri Gender Bender’s mind to the powerful degree that I did.
Ever since first listening to Sin Sin Sin in 2011, I knew that Le Butcherettes were a unique gift to rock music. Their songs had a cool garage rock grit that featured lead singer and guitarist Teri Gender Bender presenting herself as a frantic and imperious force. bi/MENTAL, their big label debut with Rise Records, feels like a huge escalation of everything that make Le Butcherettes great. There’s still the great mix of muscular rock (“give/UP,” “father/ELOHIM”) and spaced-out haze (“spider/WAVES,” “sand/MAN”) that were present on their previous albums. But the songwriting is so much richer than it has ever been. Teri’s songs have even more full-bodied hooks that linger on the brain, as evidenced by my growing obsession with the soulful power pop groove of “strong/ENOUGH.”
There are also new textures and harmonies added to the band’s sound that I really enjoy, which is in large part due to the strong and ambitious collaboration among the new members of the band (which include Riko and Manfred Rodriguez-Lopez, the brothers of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of At The Drive-In who was also a longtime collaborator with Teri). “struggle/STRUGGLE” is like nothing I’ve heard from the band before, and all of the individual tracks that make up “little/MOUSE” are colorful and wonderfully played. Everyone is playing and collaborating to such a high degree that it results in some of the most dynamic and thrilling rock music I’ve ever heard. This skeleton makes the tragic soul of these songs even more compelling.
In interviews, Teri has detailed her heart-wrenching relationship with her bipolar mother, which informed how bi/MENTAL was written. The album feels like Teri is finally opening the floodgates to let out all of the complicated emotions that have built up for years in a close but volatile relationship. “in/THE END,” the most tender and forlorn song on the album, was written when Teri was barricading herself in the closet to hide from her knife-wielding mother. “mother/HOLDS” (a collaboration with punk legend Alice Bag) features a backing track of unnerving paranoid screams. “/BREATH” ends the album on a haunting note, as it is a song about metaphorically letting go after “death,” with the fatalistic song ending in shockingly abrupt place like its life was quickly snuffed out. There is a bit of a sinister energy to this album, stemming from Teri’s confused but exasperated reactions to her heartache.
Despite all of this, bi/MENTAL is an album of hope and strength. While these songs have a tragic energy, none of them feel like they are meant to induce cheap self-wallowing or offer easy answers. Teri’s fierce spirit is the defining factor in all these sad songs, which makes these tales of perseverance as opposed to tales of outright defeat. “give/UP” is a song about cutting ties with toxic loved ones, but it is sung and played in such a defiant way that gives the situation an air of triumph. Teri’s fable-like lyrics on songs like “dressed/IN A MANNER OF SPEECH” also give the songs a feel of lofty heroic epics, like a Tolkien novel or a Jack Kirby comic. Teri’s fierceness can even be experienced by just looking at the album cover, in which she presents herself as a Chichimeccan god of war in a power stance awaiting her next fight.
I’m probably never going to stop thinking about bi/MENTAL. Le Butcherettes have not only created an album of satisfying and addictive rock, but they’ve also managed to create something to touch the parts of the heart and mind that deal with unspoken, deep heartache. Even from a place of confused sadness, Teri Gender Bender writes songs with such a burst of realistic humanity that this is truly an album for a wide range of moods ranging from positive to negative.
It is an exciting feeling to realize that you’ve just heard something from a favorite performer that can be considered their crowning achievement, and that is what I felt after listening to bi/MENTAL. Not just one of the best albums of the year thus far, bi/MENTAL is an instant classic.
Notable Tracks: “father/ELOHIM” ǀ “give/UP” ǀ “in/THE END” ǀ “mother/HOLDS”