A lot has happened in the young career of Teresa Suárez, aka Teri Gender Bender. She formed her band, Le Butcherettes, at age 17 in Guadalajara, Mexico, and started playing underground punk venues. Influenced by the riot grrrls of yore, Suarez underscored her feminist activism with snarling guitars, impassioned vocals, and bold stage antics, including everything from bloody aprons to feather dusters and severed pig heads. Her shows were a spectacle, a protest and concert in one — enough to catch the eye and ears of Omar Rodríguez-López, who saw a particularly exciting Butcherettes show in which the power went out and Suárez finished the show in the audience, shouting through a megaphone. He was so impressed that he signed the band to his label and produced their debut, 2011’s Sin Sin Sin.
For good reason, there’s been a lack of Le Butcherettes material of late, in lieu of Suárez and Rodríguez-López’s budding artistic relationship, which includes the formation of Bosnian Rainbows and experimental electro supergroup Kimono Kult. With those acts filling the hole that the Mars Volta left in Rodríguez-López’s life, there’s a sense that the veteran musician has taken the upstart punker under his wing and adopted her as his muse. This hasn’t given her much time to play her own music, but she’s been quietly working on it in the background, while relocating to Los Angeles from Mexico and carrying out vocal duties for his bands.
Cry Is for the Flies is the long-awaited sophomore album from Le Butcherettes and a reflection on the last three years for Suárez. Fittingly, Rodríguez-López reciprocates her support, acting as bassist and returning as producer. His further involvement with the songwriting goes a long way in turning the band’s once straightforward garage bashing into something heavier and more developed. “My Child” is the most obvious example of this dynamic — a song with a post-punk pensiveness and massive, metallic breakdowns. The production is noticeably improved over Rodríguez-López’s DIY job on the first record. Here the guitars are accentuated by the thick bass (think DFA 1979) as sinister organs tangle with Suárez’s melodies, which are front and center, where they belong.
Clearly, the time with Bosnian Rainbows paid off, because her vocal performances on Cry Is for the Flies go far beyond anything we’ve ever heard from her before. Though she’s always touted a hyper-charisma on par with Karen O, Suárez is learning how to balance her fervor with vocal variations and moments of understatement, as to accentuate the impact of her wilder yelps and bellows. Although she can get incessant when she starts repeating a refrain over and over and over (“Normal, You Were”, “Poet from Nowhere”), songs like “The Gold Chair Ate the Fire Man” see her giving way to the well-written, catchy melody instead of trying to over-sing. She’s so technically talented and has such a wide range that she falls into this trap occasionally, as on “Demon Stuck in Your Eyes”, where she tries to do too much, screaming and wailing and twisting around syllables. Suárez has a voice that can cut through the heart when she restrains it — especially noticeable on the poignant closing title track.
Those are just minor qualms against what is a fine return album for Le Butcherettes. Cry Is for the Flies offers its share of memorable songs, a few of which stick with you after just one listen, and Rodríguez-López’s continued influence moves the band’s blitzing garage rock into more progressive realms of pop. If Teri Gender Bender can get a chance to work on more music for the band before Bosnian Rainbows or some other Rodríguez-López project kicks back up, then Le Butcherettes have the makings of punk stardom.
Essential Tracks: “My Child”, “The Gold Chair Ate the Fire Man”