The Builders And The Butchers – Dead Reckoning (Music Review)

Dead Reckoning cover

The Builders And The Butchers - Dead Reckoning

With their folk-rock sound and nasally, somewhat lost voice, The Builders And The Butchers are immediately reminiscent of fellow Portlanders The Decemberists. But where The Decemberists rely heavily on affectations of past eras, this band is rooted firmly in a modern, or maybe recently-passed, alternative sound. More importantly, their vocals don’t have nearly the range of Colin Meloy, and maintain a consistently whiny sound throughout. I was ready to dismiss them in the first few minutes, but before long, they started to grow on me.

The cover to Dead Reckoning, with its realistic but overly-saturated cartoon of a dead boy (as well as the back, filled with penny-eyed children being rowed off to their fate) makes a good summary of the band’s themes. The depressing and angstful lyrics contrast with upbeat, forward-moving music, and the whole thing is a little too exaggerated to feel the emotions personally. The band has an excellent ear for pop, although their sound has never been mainstream, and this brand of wrist-cutting flamboyance went out of style after The Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails.The back of the Dead Reckoning case

This is a band whose “Lullaby” starts with “It’s time we made ashes of our bones”, and who performs a song called “Rotten To The Core” as if it’s a dancy interpretation of Tom Waits’ cynical Blood Money album. The songs feature a huge variety of instruments (with a unique beat that comes from two people sharing a single drum set), but the results are always simple and repetitive, sometimes with a bit of a waltz or a march to them, and other times just with a stark beat to emphasize the disasters envisioned in the lyrics. Apocalyptic visions are where the singing sounds most at home, reaching manic heights with the proclamation “there’s a battle in the sky between God and the Devil” or warnings about monsters in the sea. Other songs (especially the opening “I Broke The Vein” and the closing “Family Tree”) are more personal, with a quavering narrator explaining his own pain, but the wider cinematic scale sounds the most appropriate to the band.

Though these examples may sound depressing, this is a fun album. It functions as a light, folksy call to arms for a fantasy war that doesn’t actually touch the listener personally. The Builders And The Butchers provide an unusual form of escapism, with a catchy style that sounds full and epic even when featuring mainly acoustic instruments. It’s a unique experience.

Grade: B

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