Thursday, October 9, 2008

Disappointment's Noble When it's Someone Else's Life

Very few words send up as many warning flares for me as the ones "eight-piece," and "orchestral." That's not to say that I will outrightly dismiss any band with a large number of members who employ strings (other than guitars,) horns, and woodwind instruments in their songs. It's quite the opposite actually. When those elements are employed properly they have the potential to create absolutely stunning music. I just feel that they are far too often abused, taken too far, and the result is often emotionally manipulative.

Glasgow's Butcher Boy, just saw their album Profit in Your Poetry have a domestic release this past Tuesday, October 7th. This record manages to walk the entire length of a tightrope between over the top orchestration, and genuinely effective beauty with out so much as dipping one toe over to the dangerous side. Not being a musician myself I am baffled by people that are able to achieve this balance so well. If I had to guess I would say that every note of instrumentation seems to be in place to serve the song that is at hand. No one is showing off. It also helps that the lyrics are razor sharp (and yes quite poetic) observations, and they are delivered in a tossed aside manner by front man John Blain Hunt. Since the lyrics are so sharp they need no vocal embellishment, and it's a brilliant contrast to the often borderline epic-ness of the music.

The record opens with the careful build of strings and drums into the line "I'm screaming in my sleep, I'm tired of the cool content of irony..." It's not delivered as a call to action, instead he voices his annoyance with the fact that this is disturbing his dreams. Later in the song he asserts, "I don't want any trouble, I just want to find a way home." I've considered the theme of escape in pop songs to be an important one lately. I think that it is safe to say that at some point in all of our lives it's likely that we've wanted to escape from or to something. The ability to convey this feeling in a thoughtful manner is a skill that far too few song writers possess.

I would consider title track to be the album's highlight. The intro vaguely recalls a darker version of American surf rock, not distorted, just dark. Lines such as "Your eyes reflect in my eyes," greatly benefit from the aforementioned tossed aside delivery. The song itself is likely about some facet of interpersonal relationships that I will never understand, but it moves with a well constructed sense of urgency that alerts the listener to the fact that something important is happening within the context of the song. It's also fortunate enough to know that it doesn't have to beat you over the head with what exactly is happening, and what you as the listener are supposed to feel.

Another note-worthy element of this album is the cleverness of the song placement. The most radio friendly track, "I Know Who You Could Be" is proceeded by the record's most dance-able number, "Girls Make Me Sick," and followed by the bleak resignation of "Fun." In the former the narrator details a lonely afternoon of sketching, and how that afternoon turns to evening color by color. The following morning when his lover shows up, he thinks about "How I look through bluer eyes than mine." Then on "Fun" he notes that the person in bed next to him, "Smells like places I've not been, but that's o.k. I wouldn't want it any other way." He also talks of being "Blinded by the times when we were fun." Perhaps this is in reference to the same person from earlier songs? Who knows? Well, surely the author knows, but he is kind enough to let the listener use their imagination.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this record over all is it's ability to explore these largely familiar themes, highlight them with familiar elements of orchestration, and come across as being just as necessary as any other band or record that it might recall. I'm not quite sure how this is achieved so successfully, but I'll chose not to question that. Poetry that is as good as this is better left a mystery.

Available through the How Does it Feel to be Loved? label, and (hopefully) any good independent record store.

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