The Eighteenth Emergency
: What would you expect a band whose label shares its name and owner with a C86 classic indie-pop club-night to sound like? A: Not, actually, Butcher Boy.
Despite their heritage as the first and only act signed to first-wave survivor Ian Watson’s How Does It Feel To Be Loved imprint, the sounds here are nowhere near as monochrome as the specter of that tape would suggest. The songs carry on the noble tradition of graceful longing, the beatification of the miniature, and everything else that fuelled their predecessors’ quiet explosions of the heart; but rise above the regrettable tendencies for two-note melodies and grandma’s-shed production.
Singer John Blain Hunt has a knack for soft, gorgeous falling cadences, staking out an admirably idiosyncratic lyrical landscape, a place where hearts beat too fast, full of heavy coats, boxing gloves, sunken cinemas, and a forlorn but ever-hopeful tenderness. Topics cover familiar ground (y’know, love ’n’ shit) but there’s enough enigma to Hunt’s imagery and enough musical variation to keep things well afloat.
The EP opens with a slow piano number, which may have been better placed at the end. As an opener it adds little but a lingering sense of melancholy; against which, the Eastern stomp of “There Is No Who Can Tell You Where You’ve Been” comes as a startling but not unwelcome surprise. One can’t help hoping that the vocals had been mixed higher here in the first verse—by the second, the levels seem to be much kinder to each other. It’s odd to start with a comedown, when you’re finishing with a dancer, albeit of the gladioli-and-hearing-aid kind; “Keep Your Powder Dry” closes the affair with the band’s most obvious acknowledgement of its debt to the Smiths and the Postcard bunch. Hunt clearly has hugs for you if your particular brand of frisky guitar and lispy poetry was born in the ‘80s.
Although the most true to type, it’s also Butcher Boy’s strongest moment, and the most likely candidate for repeat listens—not to mention radio play. They push outside the template with charming, restrained violin, while in true twee style the melody pushes the edge of Hunt’s range. Romantic lines like “from sky to sand, to sea to meadowlands, to Hallowe’en to happier times” get their power from the vulnerability in the light, spinning vocals, always barely under the singer’s control. The preceding track plays off similar rhetoric, with just acoustic guitar for company. There’s a trace of Malcolm Middleton to proceedings, if he drank less whiskey and got more sunshine.
It’s in the snowy dusting that covers the EP—the music would work well in winter; wistful, resigned, but glistening in its softness. The artists differ in how they take the cold—Middleton retreats, turns on the heater, gives way to solitude and bleak misanthropy. Butcher Boy wrap up in a scarf, step out across the crunching leaves and hold your hand to keep you both warmer. How Does It Feel To Be Loved? Well, a little bit like this…
Reviewed by: Richard O’Brien
Reviewed on: 2007-09-06