When you take an avant-garde guitar player and an eclectic, brash frontwoman and they collaborate on an album, it’s clear what the outcome will be. The dominant influence on the sound of the album will be the rhythm section.
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is a hot-shit guitar player, no doubt about it. He was a core member of post-hardcore firebrands At The Drive-In and his Herculean strongman solos defined the sound of The Mars Volta, the love ‘em or hate ‘em prog punk freakout machine. After recording over 900 solo albums, he seemed to have decided that his maximalist style was maxed out. First it was Noctourniquet, the fairly straightforward, (allegedly) final album from the Volta. Then it was a new band with the longtime Plant to his Page—vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala—and the post-punkish Antemasque. Their debut record was even more conventional than Noctourniquet, with catchy choruses and riffs, and the least cryptic lyrics Bixler-Zavala has ever put to wax. So maybe, in retrospect, Crystal Fairy is not that surprising.
But was it really that obvious? Teri Gender Bender, vocalist for post-riot girrrl ensemble Le Butcherettes and frequent collaborator on Rodriguez-Lopez’s thousands of solo albums, can throw some noisy curve balls, much like her forebear Diamanda Galas. Throw Rodriguez-Lopez and Gender Bender together, and you don’t know what you’re gonna get…
…unless, apparently, you mix in bassist Buzz Osbourne and drummer man Dale Crover, the core of indie rock legends the Melvins. While they have their weird streak as well, they have a strand of classic rock running in their DNA. It’s hard to call Crystal Fairy strictly conventional given some of its dissonance, though it’s certainly not a weirdo art record, either. There’s nothing here that’s not fairly palatable, especially considering some elements of the member’s collective back catalog.
The record kicks off with “Chiseler” and a count off of 1-2-3-4 on a hi-hat, usually a good sign that the band will bringing a live vibe to the studio. This has a great riff, and Gender Bender brings a strong witchy-woman vocal performance as she sings across the riff rather than simply doubling it. Next up is the cheekily titled “Drugs On The Bus,” another riffy rock number, if a bit more lumbering, but do NOT call it grunge. Osbourne brings the low end forward here with some dexterous bass counterpoints and, like the whole album, this shit is tight. Fitting considering these are professionals with countless albums and years under their belts. Gender Bender even throws in a cool acapella section, but if it’s not clear now what you’ll be getting… well, honestly, it’s pretty clear what you’ll be getting. “Necklace of Divorce” sounds downright bluesy at points. “Secret Agent Rat” sounds exactly like you’re thinking, with some Spanish lyrics which give it a feel more analogous with Rodriguez-Lopez’s solo work.
Everyone loves a title song (Iron Maiden’s “Iron Maiden” and Night Ranger’s “Night Ranger” anyone?); Crystal Fairy joins these hallowed ranks with, uhhh, “Crystal Fairy.” The main riff is dissonant and locomotive, again with some nutty Osbourne licks and anthemic vocals.
One real highlight comes on the downhill side in “Bent Teeth.” Another tight riff makes the song, which might even have made it onto 90s rock radio if someone like Axl Rose was on vocals. The album winds up with “Vampire Necklace,” an uptempo driving tune that kind of sums up the whole set nicely. It feels like a set closer, which brings the whole “live in the studio” vibe full circle.
There’s a risk in knocking a record for not “breaking new ground.” The rock era has gone on for so long, there’s less and less to be done and it becomes more and more difficult to squeeze out some droplets of something truly unheard. That said, should points be deducted for not trying? Maybe. But, if you want to rock the fuck out, Crystal Fairy will deliver an enjoyable listen with some really, really tight playing. There’s a lot to recommend here. But Crystal Fairy is nothing groundbreaking, and like so many so-called supergroups, is most likely to be mostly forgotten in comparison to the member’s other work. Kinda like Damn Yankees who, it must be noted, have a song called “Damn Yankees.” Bring the rock, people.
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Crystal Fairy will release on February 24th. Head on over to their Bandcamp to pre-order your copy.