If you look closely at the liner notes to Make Yr Life, you’ll see a dedication from Kaia Wilson that explains the mysterious significance of the Butchies, America’s greatest power-pop band: “Special love to Grandma Flora Samuels 102 years old and still got all her teeth… [and] all my bandmates past and especially present who taught me how to rip off great songs and that playing music is a combination of therapy, church, romance, and rollercoaster rides.” Get it? The Butchies are brave hook-thieves with an absolute reverence for the past (at least the past that women have made), and an ear for putting angst and lust into exciting contexts. They aim to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, to give your life a loud soundtrack that you can use. On this, their fourth (and loudest) record, they hit it again. I’m beginning to think it’s impossible for these righteous babes to put out a bad album, really.
One difference between Kaia Wilson and many other lesbian singer/songwriters is that she really, really enjoys having sex, and she’s not afraid to write about it. Her love songs have none of that smooshy platonic permanence that LTR-dykes like to write about. Instead, we get the rollercoaster ride, which includes lust. The rousing leadoff track, “Send Me You” features lines like “Can I bite your hand your neck alright”, and a bridge that goes, “I’m I-TC-HI-NG!”, all surrounded by those epic two-note guitar hooks the people used to love when putting on Cheap Trick records. Melissa York’s drumming and Alison Martlew’s bass are like a tether that stretches taut and holds the tune in place (no room for York’s amazing pyrotechnics here). Add in the hypertrophied doubletrack chorus (“Send me you on Saturday, on Thursday…”) and you end up with a supersonic AOR anthem about being in love, jumping on beds, longing for sex. Sorta like if Boston and Journey were deleted from the music timeline and lesbians took over.
The rest of the album steps forward and carries on from there, often with some serious baggage. If you read the lyrics for “Trouble”, for example, you’ll scratch your head at the incoherence (“so stop the game play the game”, “look at how the way we’re staying / when it’s all been said and it’s all been done”), but as the riffs evolve and speed forth angrily, and you hear Kaia shouting the lyrics with brain on fire, it all makes perfect sense! Same goes for “17” (an earlier version of which appeared on the first Fields and Streams collection). Except let’s not forget that the latter song contains the memorable line “smoking fags with fags with fags with fags”...
Another fascinating track is “She’s So Lovely”, a lady-gaze anthem which cartwheels out with a talky-memorable guitar riff and then lustifies the smitten slipstream thus: “Wanna take you down to the river / Wanna take you down down down down / Grab the bottle slip on the rocks / Grab my hand baby I just wanna talk.” Then the word “please” gets repeated at least nine times, a motif you might also recognize from Old Time Relijun’s recent anthem “Cold Water”. Not sure if Al Green started it all with “Take Me to the River”, but the goosebumpy riverbank-pleading trend is fascinating (especially since the Butchies and Old Time Relijun have an overtly sexual goal when conducting the metaphor).
But let’s talk about the title track, “Make Yr Life”, because I feel gossipy. Make no mistake, the tune is astounding: a heady gatecrasher that closes with a majestic, thrown-from-the-back-of-the pharynx “du du-du-d-du-du du du” singalong. However, fans of the band will notice that it rips off “To Be Broadcast Live”, the leadoff track from their debut album Are We Not Femme?, itself most likely a kissoff to Kaia’s former bandmate in Team Dresch (I won’t mention any names, although I guess I already did). Could “Make Yr Life” be the reconciliation? The chorus goes, “Is it any wonder I’m still the same / Is it any wonder I’m to blame?”, and then, just before the song throws out its arms and embraces the inarticulate verbalisms, Kaia sings, “make yr life / lemons and wine / come with me come with me”. It’s as if the band has come full circle from the factionalism of their debut, and my eyes tear up every time. This is all blind speculation on my part, so listen and judge for yourself (and cognoscenti please advise).
The album closes with a great one-two punch. “Tell the Others”, a new power-pop classic about defending and loving a putative loser, obviously comes from Kaia’s deep well of strength, and Melissa York’s drums underscore every word during the lines, “For her for her / God how I adore her”. Then comes a shocking ballad called “Your Love”, which most people will recognize as a slowed-up and emotified cover of the Outfield’s 1986 top ten hit. Kaia nearly whispers the lyrics, without changing gender (“You know I like my girls a little bit older”, “Stay the night, we’ll keep it under cover”); soon loud drums punch into the mix, Kaia tries to stop her hands from shaking, and all that beady-eyed lust we got at the album’s beginning starts blushing into our own cheeks, and it all becomes really fucking romantic.
Make Yr Life is a sweaty, loud, lesbionic jump-spin-makeout record, and power-pop has rarely found a more exciting context. Strongly recommended.
// Notes from the Road
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