The Mexican band Le Butcherettes has followed the trajectory of many brilliant artists of that country: Initially unable to succeed in the impenetrable but influential Mexican music scene, its members went abroad, found success, and are now beginning to find recognition back home.
Why is a band this exceptional, with a lead singer as talented as Teri Gender Bender, not celebrated with more gusto on both sides of the border? There’s a lot to write about there — about how the Latin music machine likes its women, and about how Latin rock remains largely the domain of men willing to rebel against everything except machismo. But let’s take this to a positive place, because Le Butcherettes’ members deserve a note of praise and not an expose on the endemic problems of the Latin entertainment industry. This is an amazing band, Gender Bender is rapidly heading to Karen O territory with her vocals and stage presence, and you should listen.
When Gender Bender sat down to write Cry Is for the Flies with the group, she was going through a lot — some of it related to the issues mentioned above. I asked her about this over the phone, because I was intrigued by the tone of the new album, which is as gorgeous as it is restless, dense and dark. In a relaxed, cheerful voice, she said the record was written nearly two years ago, when she’d decided to leave her family in Mexico and head for Los Angeles. It’s a snapshot of her feelings of guilt surrounding that move.
However, if this is her guilt trip, it’s great to be taken for a ride. Gender Bender’s voice has matured spectacularly in the past few years, and in songs like the opening “Burn the Scab” and the rhythmic “My Child,” she rides effortlessly over the thick, pounding waves of guitar and bass.
Gender Bender, who has forged a creative partnership with Omar Rodriguez Lopez over the last few years, has spoken about how the gifted musician has mentored her, and it shows on Cry Is for the Flies. She’s always been a remarkable musician and vocalist, but she reaches new heights here.
Gender Bender has a tremendous gift for capturing feelings and emotional processes that are difficult to narrate, including guilt. It’s interesting that such a young woman — someone who grew up in the era of singles — would craft an album so beautifully narrative as a whole. There’s a frenetic pace to the first bit of Cry Is for the Flies. Then a skit, a conversation between a man and his guilt, changes the course: The next couple of songs sound almost exhausted, and the album ends on an anthemic note with “Crying for the Flies,” in which she seems relieved.
When I asked Gender Bender whether she feels weighed down by putting out an album that chronicles a different, perhaps sadder time in her life, she returned to that subject of relief: She’s glad to get this beautiful record out there after all this time.
Yes, the Latin music industry is unkind to newcomers, particularly women who dare to be different. And, yes, the U.S. music industry still eyes Latin crossovers uncomfortably. But that world is changing rapidly, and for Teri Gender Bender, it’s just the beginning of what I suspect will be a long and fascinating career.