ARTIST: LE BUTCHERETTES + ALBUM: A RAW YOUTH + LABEL: IPECAC RECORDINGS + RELEASED: SEPT 18, 2015
Following 2011’s Sin Sin Sin, Le Butcherettes went on a bit of a hiatus. Front-woman Teri Gender Bender found herself working extensively with former Mars Volta guitarist and mastermind Omar Rodriguez-Lopez on his solo album Octopus Kool Aid, as well as the bands/projects Bosnian Rainbows and Kimono Kult. Last year, Le Butcherettes returned with the triumphant Cry is for the Flies and toured nearly non-stop with the Melvins and Faith No More, among others. A few days over a year since the release of Cry is for the Flies, Le Butcherettes drop A Raw Youth.
Given the short duration between the release of Cry is for the Flies and A Raw Youth, it seems appropriate to make some comparisons to distinguish the two. A Raw Youth is different in production style, but not in spirit. Due to dark and heavy subject matter and lyrical content, Gender Bender and producer Rodriguez-Lopez opted for a leaner approach to the production on A Raw Youth, allowing the lyrics and music to balance within the soundscape. Where Cry is for the Flies could be described as fuzzy, distorted, and drenched in reverb; A Raw Youth is better described as focused, clean and ambient. Don’t let that description fool you, Teri Gender Bender sounds no less fierce. It is not the sound of a producer reigning in the wild and dangerous Butcherettes, rather the sound of focused execution of artistic vision.
Not only do Le Butcherettes take a more stripped down approach to production, the songs too have been stripped of superfluous pieces. Where Cry is for the Flies had a couple of 5-minute-long songs and one over 7-minutes, the songs on A Raw Youth generally range from 2 to 4 minutes long (the majority less than 4-minutes). And there are some poppy numbers here, like “My Mallely,” “Reason to Die Young,” and “Sold Less Than Gold.” These tracks feature strong keyboard lines and vocal melodies that juxtapose dark lyrical content. The most obvious example here is “Sold Less Than Gold.” You could hear this song on the soundtrack to a teen-summer film where the characters remain oblivious to any real world realities. Nevertheless, the song is about a Middle Eastern woman who was sold by her own family because her value was “less than gold.” In another song, “The Hitch Hiker,” Gender Bender plays and sings the dual roles of rapist and victim behind a psycho-carnival organ pumping lines alongside a metronomic beat.
What often gets lost in the mix of the bands’ gender and politics is the fact that Ms. Gender Bender has an amazing singing voice. The uplifting and anthemic chorus of “Reason to Die Young,” and the four-on-the-floor stomp of “Stab My Back” are good examples, both make for great driving songs. Another example would be my favorite track, “Lonely & Drunk.” “Killing the Father, in me/Killing the woman, in me/Killing the man, in me/Killing the child, in me,” Gender Bender sings as if she’s performing her own psychoanalytic exorcism. The songs slow burn and Gender Bender’s voice and lyrics create an uncanny combination of anxiety and excitement.
Some previous reviews have suggested that this album may earn Le Butcherettes a mainstream, or expanded, fan base. Perhaps, but it’s easy to wonder if Le Butcherettes would be prone to sabotage such efforts. Point in fact, the first single from the album, “They Fuck You Over.” More than just the title, Teri sings those words in the chorus. Not exactly radio-friendly. Kicking off with a distorted drum beat, followed by a molasses-thick, fuzzed-out bassline, Le Butcherettes turn in the most stripped-down and punked-up song of the album. This song is closer to the Butcherettes’ sound from their early work, most specifically, “For Your Bleeding” from 2008’s Kiss and Kill. Pissed-off and in-your-face, “They Fuck You Over,” is two-minutes of full-throttle Le Butcherettes. Another great driving song, but you won’t hear it on the radio.
I have to admit my two least favorite tracks are, ironically, those featuring the big-name guests. Iggy Pop’s backing vocals on “La Uva” are perfectly fine. No more, no less. When I heard he was appearing on the album, I was hoping for Iggy singing in full-force on a Butcherettes rocker; but alas, Iggy is relegated here to a strange and uneventful track that takes a little steam out of the album only four songs deep. John Frusciante’s appearance on the albums’ closer is equally underwhelming. It sounds like someone hired a different guitarist to come in and play something Frusciante-esque. The guitar noodling sounds so painfully generic it took me out of the record the way bad acting can take you out of a movie.
I recommend A Raw Youth to all current Le Butcherettes fans, as well as anyone who has never heard them before. While the bands’ sound has evolved and matured over the course of each of their releases, A Raw Youth is still a great place to start. These songs are raw, catch-y in the best sense, and fairly capture the energy found in Le Butcherettes live performances. In their attempt to make a tighter and leaner album to balance its emotional weight, it would have been easy for the sound to come out cold and sterile. Nevertheless, Le Butcherettes and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez don’t even come close to such a misstep. What’s more, had A Raw Youth contained the same production techniques and sound of last years’ Cry is for the Flies, it could have easily been overlooked, both by larger audiences and the steadfast fan base. But, Le Butcherettes have produced another singular album that is every bit of everything you love about the band, but also challenges your expectations at the same time. If that excites you, then buy it.
– J. Kevin Lynch