Album Review: Will Butler - Policy

Album Reviews
Gerrit Feenstra

If you call yourself an Arcade Fire fan and have seen the band at least once in the live setting, there's a good chance that you need absolutely no introduction to Will Butler. When Arcade Fire skyrocketed to the moon amongst the Reflektor hype of 2013, it was clear that the one facet of their music that put them on the map was the same one that now put them at the top of the indie rock game: their passion. Lyrically and musically, Arcade Fire take it to the next level and engage you on every level of your being. This is best felt in the live setting. Here, Win and Regine lead the parade, dazzling the crowds with idealism and romance, like the leads in a grand opera. Surrounding them are a multitude of instruments: strings, percussion, guitar, bass, synthesizers abounding. Oh yes, and then there's also Will Butler and Richard Reed Perry tossing a tom drum between the two of them and dueling it out with drumsticks on "Power Out". Will Butler is that guy. Where in every Arcade Fire song there is a balance of chaos, control, poise, and the pouring out of the soul, Will Butler supplies the chaos. On "Rebellion", he bangs the drums like the Stone Roses never imagined. On "Wake Up", it takes the rest of the band to balance him out vocally.This past year, in his down time, Will escaped the 27 Club and recorded a solo record called Policy, out this week on Merge Records. Policy is exactly what you'd expect it to be really - a fantastic record of passion and raw fire from one of rock's biggest names, albeit a bit short. But with or without the 10 year connection, Will Butler makes his solo debut an effortlessly lovable endeavor.

Glancing over Will's words on the record on Merge's site, you get about one sentence out of him: "Policy is American music". Then Butler lists a couple of notable American acts that you can hear on each of the album's tracks: Violent Femmes, The Breeders, Smokey Robinson, and with a disclaimer, John Lennon to name a few. That may not seem like the world's most descriptive album introduction, but with Policy, it works, both musically and lyrically. Even over just 8 tracks and 27 minutes, Butler manages to pull in a lot of great American sounds for this record. I would confidently add the Talking Heads to his list, who Butler cites heavily on tracks like "Anna" and "Something's Coming". With many of these acts, it's easy to see how they play into the sounds of all of Arcade Fire's work and that of its individual members. But it's most fun on Policy to see which pieces of these sounds Will decides to take with him and channel. Whether it's the raucous bounce of the Femmes on "Take My Side" and "Son of God", burning down the pavement, or Lennon's spinster balladeering on "Finish What I Started" and "Sing To Me", Butler does it all with charm and ties the different sounds of the late 70s and early 80s together wonderfully.

Lyrically, the Americanism at hand on Policy is that sort of classic American Icarus story, where the self-righteous young man with a fire in his bones heads out on the road to spread the gospel of the immediacy of the moment, then gets tired, bored, and heads home to find an ideology and a distraction elsewhere. From the Graduate to American Idiot, it's a great story, and on Policy, Will tells it particularly well given the short time frame. "Take My Side" lays the exposition and puts rubber to the road. "Anna" cites all the problems of the moneymoneymoney obsessed monotonous world. Then after a moment of self-doubt on "Finish What I Started", Will starts lighting fires with "Son of God" and "Something's Coming", then realizes he didn't have an end goal in plan on "What I Want". The whole thing wraps up beautiful with "Witness", where one line in particular seems to wrap up the whole message with a cleanly tied bow, as Will passes the torch to the next young, restless soul ready to tear the world a new one. "Tell the truth, tell them what you saw, and not what you are". After all, isn't that the great American way of spreading the gospel? Here, Butler takes the nihilism Arcade Fire played with on side A Reflektor tracks and cranks it to 11. It's a fun, over-the-top whirlwind of ideals that fit quite neatly into an album called Policy.

Will Butler set out to create a classic American record and he did just that. Policy is out this week on Merge Records! Grab it at your local record store on CD or vinyl. You can catch Will Butler live at SXSW and at Sasquatch! Music Festival this year! Or, for the rest of us, you can drive down to Portland and see him at the Doug Fir Lounge on May 24.

Related News & Reviews

Album Reviews

Album Review: Heems - Eat Pray Thug

"Product of partition" - that's how Himanshu Suri, a.k.a. Heems, defines himself on Eat Pray Thug closer "Patriot Act". On that track, he talks about how growing up as a man of Indian descent in post-9/11 NYC was a nightmare. "From then on they called all of us Osama", he recalls towards the end, "…

Read More
Local Music Agitated Atmosphere Album Reviews

Agitated Atmosphere: Broken Water - Wrought

As major labels continue to exist behind the times, artists and labels with little capital and lesser reputations are producing some of the most innovative, interesting, and inspiring music. Whether it’s creating a new niche in digital technology or looking to once obsolete formats, Agitated Atmosp…

Read More