As a folk-leaning, eight-piece from Glasgow, specialising in melodic indie-pop, Butcher Boy were inevitably going to be likened to Belle and Sebastian. Their first two album, pleasant as they were, sounded like odes to the legends of twee. So their third album, Helping Hands, comes as something of a surprise.
Their first two records, 2007’s Profit In Your Poetry and the following year’s React or Die, were released on London indie label How Does It Feel To Be Loved. After a three year gap, Helping Hands is released Damaged Goods, but their record label isn’t the only change to hit camp Butcher Boy.
While not abandoning their roots entirely, an unconscious, natural shift seems to have occurred,with their sound becoming a little darker, deeper and more sincere. Helping Hands sees the band emerge less reliant on singer John Blain Hunt’s pearly vocals, instead making great use of strings and synths to carve their sound.
Their 12 track album contains three instrumentals and one, J For Jamie, kicks off the album with rolling strings and gentle drums; it sets the tone. The Day Our Voices Broke is a fast-paced, warm track that still nods toward Tigermilk-era Belle and Sebastian, but with a feel-good vitriolic overtone. At times Hunt’s voice stoops deeper than we’re used to, and a new sense of melancholy envelopes his lyrics, bringing with it echoes of Tindersticks and John Cale.
I Am The Butcher is perhaps their finest song to date. A bittersweet ode to weaning love with a rousing Celtic chorus; “I haven’t touched your face since we moved, We haven’t danced enough since we moved here, We’ve been working hard for years,” it leaves you with a glow and feels like the culmination of everything they’ve tried to create since they formed, some 10 years ago.
Parliament Hill is another stand-out track. With playfully downbeat, studied lyrics amongst rolling folk licks, it’s self-assured and weaves around a dress-up box of instruments, verging on chamber-pop; a sound most recently heard on The Miserable Rich‘s Of Flight And Fury.
Whistle and I’ll Come To You moves into more weepy territory. With the likes of I Am The Butcher as album-mates, its dip in volume and mood is stark. It creates an eerie loneliness that’s matched only by Shearwater. It’s intense and haunting; a real tear-jerker that stands alongside ballad Bluebells, as the album’s more serious moments.
Further along, Russian Dolls nods back towards their townsmen, with Stuart Murdoch’s inflections creeping in as Hunt urgently purrs “Everybody’s so strong, they’re younger and wiser but they’ve been away for too long…Wipe the sleep and the working week from your eyes.”
Your Cousins and I continues the uptempo theme, with a ’60s surf sound combining with jangly, indiepop guitars and violins to create a sound that’s chaotic by Butcher Boy standards. There’s no doubt that this is the mood they thrive on. Their slower songs work when weaved in amongst the indie disco fillers, but as stand alone tracks they tend to flop.
Whether you’re a long-standing fan or new to Butcher Boy, Helping Hands is well worth the investment; it leaves you warm long after it’s over, and their shifting moods and sounds means there’s something new to discover on each listen. A contender for indie-pop album of the year.