The Butchies, local favorites from Durham and powerful combiners of throttling punk power and women’s protest music, emerge on 3 as perhaps the best purveyors of queercore today. Guitarist Kaia Wilson’s flowing, crystal-clear playing slides its hand into the classic rock toolbox of distorted, hammer-of-the-gods riffs, while her swooping, butterflies-in-the-stomach vocal melodies and smart, passionate lyrics heave and sigh, scream and cry. The Butchies’ new album simultaneously acknowledges and rockets past its musical heritage, transforming it into something new, yet eerily familiar.
Most critics trace queercore–punk sounds backing explorations into queer sexuality and politics–back to early-’90s bands such as Team Dresch, the Northwest group that included both Wilson and Butchies’ drummer Melissa York. But queercore has always been near the heart of rock ‘n’ roll: Elvis, hips swaying beneath his eyeliner, played queercore. The Beatles learned about it from hairdresser Astrid Kirchherr in Hamburg. Paul Westerberg sang about the “Androgynous” future. Kurt Cobain, who cross-dressed and French-kissed bandmate Kurt Novoselic, also knew what it was.
What’s different in rock’s recent history is that women are picking up guitars and drumsticks as never before. On 3, the Butchies’ sound–completed by bassist Alison Martlew–most resembles that of Sleater-Kinney, whose entwined ironrod guitar lines, roiling drums and caterwauling vocals built on the postpunk bands of the early ’80s, setting a new course for rock’s queercore heart. The album mingles toughness and tenderness, raw wails and sophisticated compositions, screaming bloody murder and sighing with dreamy desire–all at once. “For Kay” is politically tinged, wondering what there is to do, since with “women being killed” and “women being lost/they’re killing everything today/they’re killing souls and safety, they’re killing sanity.” But “Anything Anthology” turns more to the pleasures of rock-fandom, asking a onetime groupie of Traffic and Led Zeppelin, “Sweet lady, am I it tonight?”
The key for The Butchies, and for the future of queercore, is that they aren’t afraid to mix fears with fantasies, a hope for a better world with an exploration of power and desire in the one we have. As Wilson’s vocals shift from a purr to scream throughout 3, riding the motorcycle roar of her own guitar, there’s glimpses of bittersweet paradise and holy hell. But most of all, there’s the chance to use our bodies–while we have them–for both “action action” and “activism,” as the band sings (in unison) on “I Hate.com.”