When it comes to supergroups the basic rule of thumb is not to expect too much. All too often with such projects the term “super” can be dismissed swiftly and that’s something of a pity, because the promise of a coming together of talent drawn from various bands is almost too exciting. That’s not to say that it can’t work of course, and at least two members of Crystal Fairy (Melvins alumni Dale Crover and Buzz Osbourne) have participated in Fantomas, a project that most certainly bore odd shaped but phenomenally tasty fruit.
The signs for Crystal Fairy were always good; the key players have all collaborated with each other prior to the inception of the band. Vocalist Teri Gender Bender of Le Butcherettes had recorded with At The Drive-In’s Omar Rodriguez-Lopez under the guise of Bosnian Rainbows, and she also fronted the Melvins for a particularly impressive run through Bikini Kill’s Rebel Girl for a one off single on Joyful Noise Recordings. Both Buzz Osbourne and Teri had the opportunity to punch Rodriguez-Lopez in the face in the video of the latter’s Running Away.
So it’s not as if they’re not all familiar with each other, and this understanding presents itself in an album that allows everyone to breathe and bring their particular talents to the table without sounding clipped or compromised. It’s not a surprise to find that the first song the band wrote together, Bent Teeth, was written and recorded within a matter of hours, clearly the four of them hit a wave of creativity during the creation of the album. The song itself fizzes with an energy that’s palpable, it’s in the taut bass lines, the barely contained guitar squeals that break from Osbourne’s solo, and Gender Bender’s electrifying performance.
As might be expected from a band containing Buzz and Dale, the Melvins influence is particularly strong throughout. Of course, Melvins has been through several sonic incarnations over the years, and in this case Osbourne’s heavy riffing remains for the most part, but there’s a sprinkle of (crystal) fairy dust there that gives his attack a pop edge. Almost.
Chiseler’s talk of transcendent monkeys is underpinned with that archetypal Melvins architecture, whilst Drugs On The Bus is more subdued initially before launching into those familiar waves of guitar noise. It’s Necklace Of Divorce where things start to warp a little. It chugs with appropriate menace as Teri describes exactly what’s going wrong with a relationship. They want different things; she wants nothing, they want loving and all the squeezing, and it’s always her that does all the hunting. It’d be easy to miss the threatening undertone to the song, or the fact it’s about the dissolution of a relationship because Gender Bender’s vocals are spellbinding.
The self-titled Crystal Fairy plays a similar trick, opening with one of those trademark slightly off-kilter but colossal riffs before settling down into something a little more straightforward. It’s here that Gender Bender weaves her magic: “I know it’s not so easy, can’t seem to stop this bleeding” becomes oddly catchy in her hands. Even when the song takes a left turn into weirder territory, becoming an incantation for just a moment, it all makes perfect sense.
Whilst Crystal Fairy is a collaborative effort, it’s hard not to be drawn to Gender Bender’s performance in particular. Whilst the rest of the band is laying down solid dependable riffs that range from weighty Melvins/Sabbath fare to slightly more pop and prog influences, (and you’d expect nothing less from Osbourne, Crover and Rodriguez-Lopez) it’s Gender Bender’s phenomenal range of tone and delivery that most impresses.
She can yelp like Karen O, roar like a banshee, play it coy, and every so often, she can be absolutely terrifying too. Secret Agent Rat for example finds her crooning in Spanish and apparently channelling a malevolent spirit. Under Trouble tip toes through similar territory, with its creeping guitar lines, howling backing vocals, and a performance from Gender Bender that calls to mind Queen Adreena’s Katie Jane Garside at her most unhinged. It’s delightfully unsettling, and once it get moving, it grabs you and never lets go.
Crystal Fairy is a solid and impressive album from start to finish. Is it what you’d expect from a supergroup? If what you’re expecting from a supergroup is plenty of promise but a lack of end product, then no. But then it’s not fair to damn Crystal Fairy with the term; they’re just a group of musicians who happen to have created some absolutely phenomenal songs. They’re super, but they’re not a supergroup. Thankfully.