Butcher Boy - 18th Emergency

Bill Cummings 18/09/2007

Rating: 4/5

When Scottish four piece Butcher Boy released their debut album "Profit in your Poetry" earlier this year, we were treated to a set of precisely-honed, literate folk pop songs. John Blain Hunt's vocals bristled with tear-stained reminiscences, whilst the production burnt clear pictures of the tunes onto the minds of anyone who heard them. Their new bedroom recorded EP is inspired by a radio show appearance where they played acoustically thus they've included two new tracks, and two re-imaginings of album tracks: stripping them back they've thrown new shafts of light onto songs that were quite obviously part of the whole album's production.

“18th Emergency” is a stately ballad, a delightfully yearning piano motif runs throughout, and while Blain's voice is witheringly emotional his pitch is pure, honest and direct; there are elements of Morrissey and Orbison but this is a unique voice full of restrained cadences, always teetering but never quite falling over into falsetto. When the sighing backing vocals, and arcing violins kick in mid song it pushes it up a notch and into the realms of the best work of The Tindersticks. Frail and skeletal, it's like being allowed to read someone's secret diary entry, each line consumed with poetic heart tugging imagery that conjures up moments in time, lovers lost and real kitchen sink drama. "My hands prepare for an eighteenth emergency/ its one I'm paid to see." It's a song that shifts the Butcher Boy sound into a new place.

The reworking of "There is No One Who Can Tell Where You've Been", a song that featured on their album last year, is sublime, opening with a flamenco intro whose instrumentation is organic: stripped of any kind of intrusive production, it brings a fresh perspective to this melancholic tale that aches with a real brooding folky presence, hinting at the work of the Smiths and Belle and Sebastian yet filtering them all through Butcher Boy's unique perspective. Second new track "React or Die" is an elegantly strutting waltz, punctuated by wonderfully dark cellos, and Blain's unique emotional snapshots…of a dance? Or an unrequited romance? Perhaps both, "The suit and the glue in my eyes /but you won't see me."

Of the four tracks 'Keep Your Powder Dry' is my least favourite reworking here, but it still has much to commend it: the new skiffle beat, the faint recollections, the lovelorn vocals, but clocking in at 2:31 you do feel there's a lack of real progression here save for the beautifully understated strings. Maybe I just prefer the album version, eh?

In the current environs of an industry obsessed with finding the "next best new thing", disposable fodder that will infect our airways for months to come, clogging up bargain buckets in Woolies for years, it's heartening to hear a band like Butcher Boy. Hermetically sealed within their own world they are creating beautifully honed stripped back indie (like what they used to make) with a real emotional potency. But more than that even with only one album behind them they are prepared to take a risk and release something that shows they are a shifting human entity that documents where their heart is at right now, rather than one that's prepared to flog a winning formula to death: that marks them out as something special and this EP is yet another step in their evolution, one which I'm finding is truly touching me.