Some weeks ago, I bought React or Die, the latest release from Glasgow-based indie folk-pop outfit Butcher Boy. It’s been defying my expectations ever since. Not so much because its arrangements are particularly unusual, or its brand of acoustic-ish feyness is so entirely unexpected from a Scottish indie band, but because the album never quite slots as it should. Yes, it’s melancholy, but the songs move by and large at a quick zip; sure, it’s literate, but the lyrics also seem better bedded into the melody than might often be the case with other clever-clever bands; and the melodies themselves are very rarely memorable, and yet manage their hooks through the use of language.
This makes for a record which you come to care about only slowly: on first listen, it may all pass you by. There’s nothing here that grabs you per se – it’s all too low-key for that. But after a few listens you begin to realise that something is going on beneath the overly calm surface of these songs, and this leads you to replay the CD regularly, going deeper into how the whole thing is put together. Most notable, and this not surprising from a band whose songwriter once used the moniker Butcher Boy to pseudonymously publish poetry, is how the words built into shapes which don’t just fit the melody but shape it. This sort of thing is often spoken of as the holy grail of songwriters, but to be honest very few actually want to do it as completely as its done here – it can sound strange, to force the song along with assonance and the rhythm of language, rather than with bass guitars and drums. It works rather well here, and forces you over time to listen very carefully not just to the words themselves but how they’re put together.
It’s a trick Frightened Rabbit used last year on The Midnight Organ Fight, albeit less systematically, and to my ears the two bands share a great deal in terms of approach. Both bands craft songs which feel like unified artifacts, rather than an amalgam of melody, lyric and arrangement, and this is very difficult to achieve without at the same time making them feel unnatural. But Butcher Boy in particular also sound very organic – loose, fun and though there probably isn’t a bum note on the album there feels like there could be.
You can listen to the band at their MySpace page – have a click on album highlight ‘A Kiss Will Marry Us’. They deserve more exposure.