Had Portland’s (via Forth Worth) The Crystal Furs been around in the late 80s – early 90s there is a possibility they would have been signed to Sarah Records, home of OG jangle pop bands like The Field Mice and The Sea Urchins. Then again with their sunny, bright melodies, they might have found themselves riding the charts alongside The Bangles.
Nevertheless, it’s 2020 and The Crystal Furs have just dropped their third full-length ‘Beautiful and True‘ with impeccable timing – at least for us listeners. Over the course of 12 tracks, the band leaves everything on the table reflecting on the complexities of deeply personal topics such as coming out, fitting in, finding your place, finding love, as well as fighting injustice, and gentrification. It’s simple but powerful storytelling of anger, frustration, fragility, anxiety and ultimately celebration, over bright and poppy arrangements.
The result is a radiant sound that recalls the works of other indie-pop darlings like Snail Mail, and Girl In Red along with seminal bands like, Camera Obscura, Throwing Muses and the aforementioned Bangles. You don’t need to look much further than the first track, the joyous ‘Comeback Girls‘ which opens with strummed guitar and hooky keys before hitting the ground with the sweetest melody, in all its hooky Bangles jangle. It’s an immediate call to arms to people of the periphery:
“Shout out to the back
The lonely ones
At the end of the world now
Their time has come”
‘Comeback Girls‘ together with the standout ‘Too Kind To Be Cruel‘ and album closer ‘Second Time Around‘ make a perfect beginning, middle and end, and are more than enough to hook you in. There’s mid-tempo twee pop with ‘Expo 67‘ and ‘Pretty Mind‘ channels iconic pop of Roy Orbison. ‘Like You‘ begins as a solid homage to 60s girl-group pop before ramping up to a power-pop chorus. It’s all but certain that the punk spirit of ‘Burn Us Down‘ will make it a crowd favorite once live music is a thing again, with vocalist Steph Buchanan’s impassioned statement:
“It’s your pocketbook against my personhood
Your comfort against my rights
You wanna cure me, you wanna fix me
I wanna kick you to the curb”
The album finishes strong with three jangle-pop gems, ‘Hey Maxine‘, ‘Artoria‘ and ‘Drag You Away‘ along with ‘Robber Barons of Lombard Street‘ a song that has a moody Laurel Canyon feel to it. Overall it’s a strange time to write and release a record, but for The Crystal Furs ‘Beautiful and True‘ reflects some of their best and most confident work to date.
We touched base with Kara for a little backstory about each track.
Steph Buchanan – electric, acoustic, and baritone guitars; lead and backing vocals
Kara Buchanan – Farfisa, Vox, and Hammond organs; electric piano; glockenspiel; electric tenor guitar; hand percussion; drum programming; backing vocals
Rowan Church – bass guitar; drum programming; backing vocals
1. “Comeback Girls”
This song is one of the first written specifically for this album, and at the time, the lyrics were meant to be about overcoming a general adversity w/ modern times, and getting to be your true self, as I was coming out of the closet as trans during the writing of this song. And then, 2020 happened, so some of the words hit harder now than they did at the time. It’s about the misfits and outcasts taking their place in the spotlight at last. And it has a special meaning to this album, since “Beautiful and True” is such a rebirth of our band.
2. “Expo 67”
This is us flirting with dream pop and writing another lesbian romance epic while mashing it up with our tendency to write pop songs about architecture and urban planning. The two girls in this story find each other, find a warmth and an acceptance they’ve never had before, among the hard concrete and right angles of brutalist architecture and the coldness of the modern world. As the name implies, it’s specifically referencing the Habitat 67 condo development at Expo 67 in Montreal.
3. “Pretty Mind”
This is one of Steph’s lyrics, and it’s about growing up not fitting into a small town you’ve known your whole life. She and I both came from rural Texas, and never felt like we really fit in with our surroundings. It’s a jangle-pop tune for the kids writing short stories in their notebooks instead of going to their small town prom. Let alone those of us who were queer and closeted during that part of our lives!
4. “Panther City Pariah”
Another of Steph’s, thing song is about the band’s original hometown of Fort Worth, Texas (which has the nickname “Panther City”). Moving from a tiny town to a big city doesn’t mean all your problems go away necessarily. Fort Worth is an interesting place, with some cool music being made, but jangle pop was never something that was really part of the scene while we were there, so the Crystal Furs kind of inhabited the periphery while making fans out-of-state on the Internet. This song ties into those feelings, along with some heartbreak related to that city that we went through.
5. “Too Kind To Be Cruel”
This wound up being kind of our band reboot single, months in advance of the album, and it made a big impact for us as our re-debut in Oregon. We really wanted to lean into a lush, ‘60s-influenced pop sound here, very heavily influenced by Brian Wilson productions, the Monkees, stuff like that. Lyrically, this is a very personal one for me; it’s about somebody close to you, who’s been a friend, slippy away from you as they expose a harder, insensitive side. It’s directly inspired by somebody I considered a friend turning out to be a transphobe, and how that hit me harder since they used to be so kind to me.
6. “Like You”
This is another of Steph’s, and the chorus lyrics gave the album its title. It’s about feeling like you try your hardest to be perceived a certain way by society, and despite all your efforts, at best you feel like you wind up lost in the middle. I know she originally wrote it about body image and beauty standards, about feeling like you have to look and dress and act a certain way to be liked, but it’s so wonderfully presented that it works on many levels – I relate to it as a trans woman who’s adjusting to her new life and how I’m perceived.
7. “Burn Us Down”
This one…this is straight-up my Angry Trans Rights song. I went to a bar here in Portland, had some drinks, got angry about some anti-trans legislation I saw in the news, came out to my mom via text, and wrote this song. We just decided to let loose here and make an honest-to-goodness queercore punk song out of it. This is where the emotions boil over. I’ve also been very honored to see it accepted by others for different reasons – it’s a rager for general queer rights, feminism, etc.
8. “Hey Maxine”
“Hey Maxine” is a sincere declaration of queer love from one girl to another, about encouraging someone to explore their real selves and let themselves be happy. It’s one of the simplest arrangements on the album, and I love how it turned out – it’s just a pure blast of jangly, loving energy. (I’ll let you in on a little secret: this album kind of has a storyline? It wasn’t originally intended, but as we assembled and sequenced it we picked up on how the songs kind of work as the story of these two girls falling in love and fighting injustice. So this is kind of a character song in this storyline we like to imagine in this album.)
This is another Steph song, and in a direct sense, it’s referencing Artoria Gibbons, a famous tattooed lady from the 1920s who worked in such venues as the Ringling, Barnum & Bailey Brothers Circus. More broadly, it also functions as a companion to the previous song, another declaration of love outside the mainstream, and another character piece like “Hey Maxine.”
10. “Drag You Away”
This is another Steph piece, and it follows on the themes of “Pretty Mind” about small-town alienation and anxiety. We often write very energetic, peppy-sounding songs with lyrics about anxiety or sadness and this is a prime example of our tendencies, because this song is kind of supercharged bleakness. It’s about feeling like you can never get away from your past, away from the limitations of your history.
11. “The Robber Barons of Lombard Street”
There’s a lot of themes of queerness and triumphing over injustice in this album, and this song is kind of where it all comes to a head. It’s about gentrification, about capitalism and landlords running out your friends and your favorite places. Lombard Street is one of Portland’s funkier main streets, with several eclectic neighborhoods on the north side strung along its length, like Kenton and St. Johns. Like all these kinds of streets in Portland, it’s been in danger of having less-wealthy residents and indie (and frequently queer-focused) businesses run out by rising rents and cookie-cutter development. So the two girls in this story firebomb the landlords and management companies.
12. “Second Time Around”
This song is the first lyrical contribution by our newest member, bassist Rowan Church, and it’s about what it feels like to come out as trans as an adult. When you’re an adult coming out, you wind up re-experiencing your youth in a profound new way – doubly so on hormone therapy, as you essentially have an entire second puberty. This song is about seeing images of the way you want to be, worrying that you’ll never be able to have that, and then realizing that it’s never too late, and you *can* have it. You can be that person, you can have those emotions and those life experiences. It’s never too late to be who you really are. And this song ties into that, about being young a second time around and finally getting to have those feels. It was such an utterly perfect way to end this album that it instantly became the big closing song.