Music

The Builders and the Butchers: Dead Reckoning

Photo by Brittney Bush Bollay

A thoroughly impressive outing from Portland's finest.


The Builders and the Butchers

Dead Reckoning

Label: Badman
US Release Date: 2011-02-22
UK Release Date: 2011-02-22
Amazon
iTunes

The first thing you have to get past is the voice. Ryan Sollee's tremulous warble is a nasal concoction reminiscent of Colin Meloy, though less melodic, more twangy, and inflected with a certain stomach-clenching angst. It is thin and none too steady, and may be an acquired taste. I think of it as something that a listener will decide upon, thumbs-up-or-thumbs-down style, in about ten seconds flat.

If you come down in the thumbs-up camp, then prepare to be delighted for the rest of the trip. The Builders and the Butchers' latest full length is a joy, a stew of folk-rock fury that's as much rock as folk, at least as far as attitude goes. This Portland, Oregon-based band shares more than a little with that other one, the Decemberists, in terms of aesthetic and overall sound. The Builders and the Butchers explore a sonically darker, thematically grimmer patch of the universe, though, as unlikely as that might seem.

"I Broke the Vein" kicks off the album with a gloomy dirgelike air that ramps up in tempo and intensity two and a half minutes in. Follow-up number "Rotten to the Core" is a scorcher, with what sounds like bouzouki backing up a frantically strummed guitar, as Sollee's vocals at their most vitriolic keen above it all. Less successful is the shanty-esque "It Came from the Sea," a rare moment when the band seems less than inspired. The moment passes quickly, however.

A multitude of instruments lend their voices to the dense sonic stew on this record, with slide guitar, banjo, organ and violin filling out the basic drums/bass/guitar/voice template. For the most part the sounds are warm, organic and full, but this doesn't mean they are particularly pretty or sweet. Sollee's tortured vocals make sure of that, but so too does the on-target drumming of Ray Rude and Brandon Hafer (both are credited) and song structures whose dynamics rise and fall and whose tempos speed up and slow down.

The intensity remains throughout the middle of the record, as midtempo songs like "Moon Is on the March" and "Cradle on Fire" keep the momentum chugging along. "We All Know the Way" trades acoustic rhythms for scratchy guitars and repeated lyric lines as it follows a jittery proto-blues opening to its foot-stomping conclusion.

As if that weren't enough, the album gets stronger as it goes along. The second half is every bit as strong as the first, with the minor exception of "Blood for You", whose 82 seconds of drum-banging and hollering would have been better left in the studio archives. But the jauntily raucous "Black Elevator" and the gospel-inflected, thoroughly furious "Family Tree" are the two best songs here, and they close out the record strongly.

The band's previous album, 2009's Salvation Is a Deep Dark Well, earned the band some good reviews, but not as much exposure as it deserved. With any justice, this new record will set that right. Dead Reckoning deserves to be heard by anyone with an interest in the ongoing evolution of rock music, or the darker side of the folk songbook, or just great songs played with power and conviction.

9
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Music

Folk's Jason Wilber Examines the World Through a Futurist Lens in 'Time Traveler' (album stream)

John Prine's former guitarist and musical director, Jason Wilber steps out with a new album, Time Traveler, featuring irreverent, pensive, and worldly folk music.

Film

Alastair Sim: A Very English Character Actor Genius

Alastair Sim belongs to those character actors sometimes accused of "hamming it up" because they work at such a high level of internal and external technique that they can't help standing out.

Music

Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers Head "Underwater" in New Video (premiere)

Celebrating the first anniversary of Paper Castles, folksy poppers Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers release an uplifting new video for opening track, "Underwater".

Music

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's New LP Is Lacking in Songcraft but Rich in Texture

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's The Mosaic of Transformation is a slightly uneven listen. It generally transcends the tropes of its genre, but occasionally substitutes substance for style.

Music

Buzzcocks' 1996 Album 'All Set' Sees the Veteran Band Stretching Out and Gaining Confidence

After the straightforward and workmanlike Trade Test Transmissions, Buzzcocks continued to hone their fresh identity in the studio, as exhibited on the All Set reissue contained on the new box-set Sell You Everything.

Books

Patrick Madden's 'Disparates' Makes Sense in These Crazy Times

There's no social distancing with Patrick Madden's hilarious Disparates. While reading these essays, you'll feel like he's in the room with you.

Music

Perfume Genius Purges Himself and It's Contagious

You need to care so much about your art to pack this much meaning into not only the words, but the tones that adorn and deliver them. Perfume Genius cares so much it hurts on Set My Heart on Fire Immediately.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Confinement and Escape: Emma Donoghue and E.L. Doctorow in Our Time of Self-Isolation

Emma Donoghue's Room and E.L. Doctorow's Homer & Langley define and confront life within limited space.

Books

Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump Whitehouse -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

OK Go's Emotional New Ballad, "All Together Now", Inspired by Singer's Bout with COVID-19

Damian Kulash, lead singer for OK Go discusses his recent bout with COVID-19, how it impacted his family, and the band's latest pop delight, "All Together Now", as part of our Love in the Time of Coronavirus series.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.