Ryan Sollee of The Builders And The Butchers sings like he is the lovechild of Colin Meloy (of The Decemberists) and Jeff Mangum (of Neutral Milk Hotel). He croons nasally and lyricizes darkly. On the band’s latest album, Dead Reckoning, he appropriately breaks his vein in the jumpstarting first track, “I Broke The Vein,” and then he deems the whole world to be rotten in the equally raucous “Rotten To The Core.” Yet, amidst the blood and decay in these tracks, there are hooks (and I feel the need to specify that I mean “hooks” in the musical sense because actual hooks would also make sense in the mildly morbid content of this album).
In fact, there are many musical hooks; each song has its own unique hook, or it partners well with another track of its ilk. Once the songs are grouped together, the album possesses a curious balance of opposites — between a sense of things speeding up and then slowing down, and also of seeming pretty yet leaving the listener with a chill. A good chill.
Listen to “Lullaby” – DOWNLOAD MP3
At certain moments, The Builders And The Butchers are an amalgam of marching band and rock band. This combination is mainly due to the percussion in all of the instrumentation. “Blood For You” is perhaps the most interesting and distinctive song, as it consists of only percussion and vocals. Furthermore, I believe chains are even incorporated as instruments. It sounds like they are being dropped or thrown down to create part of the beat (and I am basing this assessment on having watched a San Francisco band by the name of Entropy Density, whose drummer, Eric Livingston, used to do that frequently). The chains give the track a slow and heavy atmosphere with the subconscious connotation of a feeling of bondage. Whether literal or figurative, it’s a fitting theme for the song title.
It is also important to acknowledge that this band was very accustomed to playing unplugged in its early days, and that wealth of experience — herein the players had to make the most of their instruments as they naturally occur — gives the music they create a textural magnificence upon its electrification. Continuing with the presence of intense percussion throughout the songs, “We All Know The Way” is a dynamic, layered gem that could easily stir up a crowd and make everyone dance. Sollee’s refrain, “We all know the way down,” would work nicely while listeners dance and effectively get down to the beat of the song. “Black Elevator” falls in line with the same full-bodied spirit and also nods to the concept of going down (“We’re going down in the black elevator.”). That said, this album can still easily serve as an inspiration to the listener, thanks to its well-rounded musicianship.
(Note: I also feel the need to comment on the album artwork since I was fortunate enough to be able to review an actual hard copy instead of merely a digital download version. Though I would never put down the solely digital format, I prefer to see the album artwork while listening the album’s music and lyrics because I feel that an album is its own holy trinity: the music, the lyrics, and the album artwork. However, I have to admit that this album cover would not have attracted me if I saw it in the store. My friend Elise said the illustrated cover looks “too harvesty” or “too thanksgiving-y.” (And she didn’t even make reference to the odd and creepy young man atop the fruits and vegetables, who is likely to be deceased, as his eyes are covered with coins!) But that is the paradoxical beauty of not liking an album cover but liking the music and lyrics inside. And so, I vote to amend the cliché — or rather to add a new one — let it also be possible to say: don’t judge a record by its cover! Otherwise, I would have missed this opus.)