In every set of brothers, there’s always one that is serious, introverted and emotional, that ponders hope, seeks for more and thinks like a poet, whilst the other brother is mischievous, cheeky, attention-seeking, extroverted and likes to tease his sibling’s personal boundaries. Newly solo Will Butler fits the latter personality and from his sugar-high performances as multi-instrumentalist of Montreal indie-art-rock band Arcade Fire, it could be guessed how he would tackle the song-writing and lyrical duties of his own individual project.
Lead single “Anna” is testament to his attention-deficit moods and his morbid perspective of life and death. “Where do you think they’ll hide your bones? Out on the field or all alone“, ponders Butler. He goes on to rationalize crime: “take out the knife, sharpen it twice and count all the money“. Yet it’s performed with such a clever device of contrast; jolly and hedonistic composition. Barbershop scatting “Ba ba bomb ba ba” makes the sound instantly addictive and the keyboard bass draws you into his Disneyland of instrumentation all conducted at his finger tips from: rapid terror piano, squeaky saxophone and random pitch highs into Justin Hawkins-territory falsetto. This is made all the more glee by the music video of Butler’s free-spirited dance moves on par with Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower”, Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy” or Dutch Uncles’s “Flexxin”, but with additional illustrative graphics.
Although nothing quite reaches the creative memorability of “Anna”, Will Butler’s debut is just as eclectic, just as cheeky as the single, with an overall passion for omnivorous rock playfulness. This is Will Butler’s policy and it’s available for us to hear. Currently adopting a Kurt Cobain hair-over-the-eyes style, Butler also borrows his grunge on “Take My Side“, which is also mixed with garage and indie rock and feels like a wilder version of Jake Bugg’s “Lightning Bolt”.
A similar gritty sound is found on “Something’s Coming” but it’s joined by a funky bass, boogie-woogie piano and experimental electric guitar distortion which makes it feel a little too claustrophobic and confusing. “Witness” is also very energetic and in a hurry to catch the last train and its dramatic nature paired with the call and answer doo-wop backing singers makes it feel like a missing song from the musical Grease. This is all before the squeaky Christmas saxophone kicks in.
The B52’s style of Doo-Wop female vocals are a consistently great asset to the album on many occasions, they help create a euphoric atmosphere on the John Lennon-piano-rock “Finish What I Started“, increase intensity on “Something’s Coming” and add another layer to the Rock Lobster-esque surreal acoustic rock on “Son of God“. Will’s voice is not completely different from his brother Win with the closest similarities in tone and word pronunciation being on “Son of God” and “Witness”, but he likes to add the occasional eccentricities including Prince imitations on “Something’s Coming”, along with laughing, which also appears on “What I Want“.
However the most notable difference between the two is the song writing. You won’t get beautifully meaningful lyrics such as Win Butler’s “my body is cage that keeps me dancing with one I love” (“My Body Is A Cage”). Instead you get humour about death and religion mixed with a constant sense of disorientation that warrants a compass: “Someone tell me what my name is, I wrote it down and I lost track of the paper” (“Finish What I Started”), and “I’ll buy you a pony. I know a great recipe for Pony Macaroni” (“What I Want”).
For all the surreal lyrics, energy and bizarreness, Butler shows off his most soft and calmer side on “Sing To Me“. A piano-ballad with only subtle echoey ripple effects and an electric organ and intimate lyrics that are forlorn and sorrowful and also ironically point out that he is “tired and I don’t wanna talk no more” – his energy finally reaching 0% battery life. With this slow paced inclusion and the short length of the album, his policy might still be slightly vague but this is his first choice of freedom and the details will be ironed out in future propositions. Will Butler’s Policy is out now on Merge Records, buy it here.