You’ve gotta hand it to them, Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover have to be some of the hardest working musicians in “alternative rock.” If they’re not recording another album with their primary band, the Melvins, they’re probably on tour with the Melvins. And if they’re not doing anything Melvins-related, they’re probably touring and/or recording one of their innumerable side projects. These guys obviously don’t know the meaning of “down time.”
So, on to their latest side project: Crystal Fairy (and while that’s a name which conjures up visions of something smacking of new age gentility, you can set that preconception aside right away). The band came together as the result of the Melvins touring with Le Butcherettes, a Mexican punk band featuring one Teri Gender Blender on vocals and guitar. While on tour, Gender Blender would join the Melvins on stage for a few songs, and from there it was a natural step to recording something together, with a final line up of Gender Blender (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Osborne, billed as “King Buzzo” (guitar), Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of Mars Volta and At the Drive In (bass), and Crover (drums).
A limited edition single, “Drugs on the Bus”/“Necklace of Divorce,” was released last October, giving an advance preview of what lay in store on the album (the single quickly sold out, but both tracks are on the self-titled album). “Drugs” starts out with a droning guitar before the full band comes in, churning out a powerful musical line with Gender Blender’s voice soaring on top. “Necklace” is in a similar mid-tempo range, and nicely shows off the versatility of Gender Blender’s vocals; starting out with a bit of a growl, then spitting out the lyrics with tight precision, then delivering a series of whoops, then fiercely declaiming “You…want…lov-ing…You…want…lov-ing.” She has the vocal chops to match the muscularity of the music with ease; no wonder Osborne and Crover wanted to work with her.
There are other great vocal workouts throughout, as on the wonderfully titled “Moth Tongue,” which grinds along in the best Melvins fashion, with Gender Blender at her most sinuous. It’s a tough call between tracks like that and the abrasive “Chiseler,” which opens the album at a gallop, spinning along like a whirling dervish, while Gender Blender starkly informs the listener, “When you think you’re all dried up/bright waves of heat will take all that’s left.” The band’s most exciting when they’re firing on all pistons like that, but they mix it up as well, veering to the opposite end of the spectrum on the slow burning “Under Trouble.”
The abbreviated description of Crystal Fairy would be: “The Melvins with a female lead singer.” But come to think of it — that tells you everything you need to know. The core members of one of America’s most powerful and intense bands, and an equally no-holds-barred lead singer. “I know it’s not so easy,” Gender Blender states in the rousing album closer, “Vampire X-Mas” (the shortest track at 2:19, and the closest thing to a pop song). But Crystal Fairy makes it seem like it is.