Going through the details of Le Butcherettes’ work up to now reads like that of some incredible cult band, and yet it would be difficult to say they’ve even reached that just yet. The appearances from the likes of Shirley Manson, Iggy Pop and John Frusciante across their discography speak for themselves (not to mention the family connection to The Mars Volta / At The Drive In’s Omar Rodríguez-López), but Le Butcherettes seem to have largely gone unnoticed by the wider world. And that can’t help but feel like a gross oversight, even just by going off their own merits, considering how consistently thrilling and visceral their brand of garage-rock can be, and how much of an incredible presence and reputation – both live and on record – their vocalist Teresa Suárez Cosío (better known as Teri Gender Bender) has. But even so, bi/MENTAL shows early signs of taking in the right direction at least; backing from a label like Rise isn’t going to go unnoticed, and with music trafficking in genuine rawness and breaking out of homogeneity finally getting plenty of much-deserved recognition, Le Butcherettes’ flying start would appear to hint they’re capable of something great here.
And that would definitely be true, but to think that bi/MENTAL is going to be the start of a bold mainstream domination for Le Butcherettes would be wishful thinking indeed. That’s not to say it’s bad – quite the opposite, actually – but the push from Rise really does stick out when looking at this as a package, as this is far from the sort of album they tend to have in their stable. It’s a weird, contorted album, frequently delving into discomfort and Suárez Cosío’s deep-seated, ugly emotions, but that’s what makes it so enduringly compelling. Especially compared to the airbrushed, half-baked emotionality of so many of their labelmates (or just so much of modern music in general), there’s not an ounce of insincerity or cynicism to Le Butcherettes’ music, and when executed with such raucous, vicious intent, bi/MENTAL really stands out as something challenging, provocative, and overall excellent.
It’s certainly looked at from a different viewpoint as well, focusing on Suárez Cosío’s estranged mother and her history of violence and erraticism stemming from her bipolar disorder. The difference comes in how this is played out, not highlighting the damage with a sense of empathy, but drawing outright scorn from it, building up the strength to distance herself from the issue on strong/ENOUGH and spitting as much venom and bile as possible on little/MOUSE. It certainly feels like an unexpected turn, playing to emotionality and viscera that, in the larger field of mental health, only looks to exacerbate the toxicity, but that ultimately feels like the point. Among the winding poetry and Suárez Cosío’s haunted, blackened croon, there’s a purge being undergone in real time, starting with the self-preservation and protection on spider/WAVES (alongside the typically manic energy brought from the Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra), and reaching fever pitch on mother/HOLDS, joined by Alice Bag’s gothic theatricality and punctuated by the horrific, graphic sounds of a woman screaming in agony. It’s not pleasant to listen to – none of it really is – but as a mirror into imperfect human weakness, especially in the face of another weakness that’s even more difficult to comprehend or contend with, Le Butcherettes are able to capture a sense of frustration and anger in a way that few others have even attempted.
It’s a shame that, besides mother/HOLDS, the instrumentation can’t quite live up to same level of barbed rancor, but that’s not going as far as to disparage it totally. On its own, bi/MENTAL has a real sense of dusty grind that it totally makes its own, whether that’s in the choppy, almost rousing garage-punk of tracks like father/ELOHIM and dressed/IN A MATTER OF SPEECH, or bass-driven insidiousness that takes more than a few glances at post-punk on little/MOUSE and nothing/BUT TROUBLE. And of course, taking center stage is Suárez Cosío herself, with the sort of wired, wiry personality that creates an atmosphere of instability that’s never not enormously compelling. Arguably, it’s an album that works best as a whole than in individual pieces, and because of that, the twists it takes feel so much more integral to the full body of work, rarely dipping in quality and always staying fresh and unpredictable. Admittedly it benefits more from actually being listened to than verbalised; letting Le Butcherettes’ own process thrive on its own is as natural as you’d imagine, with an excitement that refuses to dwindle at that.
And that really sets Le Butcherettes in good stead for doing something truly great in the coming months, at least in the underground where they have the space to flourish. It certainly helps that they’re as unique and willing to experiment as they are, but bi/MENTAL’s brutal, unforgiving emotionality is what really pushes it into greatness, showing a distinct, almost uncomfortable level of humanity that manages to resonate so much. It’s what makes this album inevitably not for everyone, but when Le Butcherettes’ hold does hit, it’s virtually impossible to escape.
For fans of: At The Drive In, Queens Of The Stone Age, Queen Kwong
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘bi/MENTAL’ by Le Butcherettes is out now on Rise Records.