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Some bland lows with stunning highs.
on July 18, 2011
The percussion unit's the first Jack to pop out of the box. The Builders and the Butchers like to split a drum set into two parts and have one drummer playing on each half, creating what they call a "deconstructed" percussion sound. This lends a communal sound to "The Night Pt 1," and carries on throughout the album. "Red Hands," the first bona fide song on this debut, sets the disk off with a bluesy start-stop bang. Momentum weakens with "The Spanish Death Song," with drawn-out melodica sections on a track that probably should have only been half as long; as we see on this and a couple other tracks, singer-guitarist Ryan Sollee's vocals haven't developed the subtle touch necessary to carry the slower bridges.
That brings us to the heart of the album. "Black Dresses" is a quick, catchy little number revolving around a woman "with a stone where there should've been a heart," while the mandolin-led "Bottom of the Lake" is arguably the gloomiest, catchiest, most intense number out of this entire album.
The brittle, slow-paced "The Gallows" undoes a lot of the momentum from the previous two tracks, but things pick right back up with the infectious, insult-laden fun of "Bringin' Home the Rain" ("You're dancin' with your demons, baby / you forgot your former life / and it was hard swimmin' once but now you're daily divin' in!"). The next four tracks continue in much the same strong vein, until coming to a disappointing conclusion with the contrived lifter-upper "Find Me in the Air."
If I could, I would have given this 3 1/2 stars, but I had to pick either 3 or 4. The major strengths on this disk are the musicianship, the loose feel of the percussion section, Sollee's authoritative yelp, and the gloomy atmosphere this band achieves from start to finish. Amateur production, a few weaker tunes and other promising yet under-developed pieces mitigate the overall project, however; while I sound like I'm being harsh, just listen to their other two albums ("Salvation is a Deep Dark Well" and "Dead Reckoning"), and you'll see that both are a definite leap forward from this flawed, yet promising start.