The Farfisa Combo Compact organ gins out reedy, cheesy sounds, coolly retro today but once coolly modern, notes that trace the curve of a smile captured in a Polaroid snapshot. But pry off the thin red plastic cover — the one with the melted spot near the vibrato switch that marks the passing of a forgotten cigarette — and one finds a pair of delicate, dust-coated ECC83 vacuum tubes. The glass valves have somehow survived the slings and arrows of a thousand natural shocks and careless drops. But when pumped with power they glow a defiant red-orange as if saying What else ya got?
In the five years that I have been following the Crystal Furs, the band has survived personal and personnel changes, relocation, sadness and confusion. And with their third album, “Beautiful and True,” they finally arrive at the beginning, making their best music yet: happy-sounding songs, full of Vox and Farfisa organ chords, with words that convey anger, anxiety, loss, and determination. And that flip a finger to any unlucky souls who impeded their progress.
“Beautiful and True” opens with the anthemic rocker “Comeback Girls,” an addendum to the Beatitudes, a vow that the unnoticed girls in the last row will inherit the Earth or at least make some cool music someday: “Shout out to the back / The lonely ones / At the end of the world now / Their time has come.”
Reckoning with The Past plays a major role in the album. “Pretty Mind” describes the existential difficulties of being a misfit in a small town, while “Panther City Pariah,” an ode to the band’s former haunt of Fort Worth, reminds us that being from a slightly larger town may be only slightly less challenging. “Drag You Away” paints a grayscale landscape of the strip malls and Wal-Marts in a podunk town, but the singer resigns herself to the inevitable: no matter how far you run, someday your coffin will be dragged back to your point of origin. “You can’t run away from your yesterdays / You can hide, turn out the light / But they’ll find you there one night / And they’ll drag you away…”
The Crystal Furs are — and I say this with the utmost affection — nerds. Thus, “Beautiful and True” contains tracks that are beyond the narrative ability of the typical jangly rocker. “Expo 67” is a tale of love found, or lost, amidst the Brutalist concrete cubes of Habitat 67. “The Robber Barons of Lombard Street” is an angry denunciation of gentrification. And “Artoria” is — as far as I can tell — about Artoria Gibbons, a tattooed lady who worked the sideshow circuit for many decades.
The Crystal Furs would not have arrived on their current shore if they had not questioned where they were and where they wanted to be. “Too Cruel to Be Kind,” “Maxine,” and “Like You” are the late-night diary entries, the notes to self that serve to define a person’s desires of who to be, or not to be: “What’s it like to be like you / What it’s like to be beautiful and true / I fight and scratch for the middle / Then get side-eyed for everything I do…” But with “Burn Us Down” the C-Furs conclude that they are who they are and anyone who doesn’t like it can kick rocks.
“Beautiful and True” closes with “Second Time Around,” in which we learn of the redemptive qualities of picking up a guitar and whanging the Hell out of it. The progress of these pilgrims, from this world to that which is to come, has been worth the journey. Now they can enjoy a second childhood, finally free to be who they always were. “Join a band and play guitar / And play it loud it isn’t hard / Being young is fun the second time around…”
The Crystal Furs are Steph Buchanan (she/her, guitars, lead and backing vocals), Kara Buchanan (she/her, keyboards, glockenspiel, electric tenor guitar, hand percussion, drum programming, backing vocals), and Rowan Church (she/they, bass, drum programming, backing vocals). They self-describe as a queer indie band from Portland, OR. We make tunes about architecture, anxiety, and lesbians.
“Beautiful and True” is available on CD from Subjangle Records or as a digital download from Bandcamp. Visit the Crystal Furs website, and be sure to follow the Crystal Furs on Spotify, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.