Glasgow based orchestral pop seven-piece Butcher Boy make a very welcome return with their third offering ‘Helping Hands’ on a new home in the respected Damaged Goods label. Following up the monochrome beauty of their classic indie pop debut ‘Profit In Your Poetry’ and the more luscious melodramatic offerings of ‘React or Die,’was never going to be an easy task. But Butcher Boy exceed expectations, clarifying and refining their sound, over this tenderly drawn set of twelve pieces of music. While previous albums saw lead singer and lyricist John Blain Hunt focused wistfully on the past, here he considers the present and looks to the future. In perhaps his finest moments to date his sparing poetic vowels are laced with tenderness pared back to their skeletal fascinating barest bones. His use of language is direct yet layered, heartfelt yet not overly sentimental, Helping Hands takes him into the realms of greatness.
The spine of ‘Helping Hands’ is both majestic and captivating. From the soft focussed gorgeousness of the title track ‘Helping Hands’ that recounts family gatherings as achingly: as the dust that linger in the air of your mother’s front room and the arms around your shoulders. While much vaunted previous outing ‘React Or Die’ was lead heavily by cellos, and string arrangements here the instrumentation is subtle and refined, twinging upon each of Hunt’s melodic shifts, like the shrug of a shoulders in slow motion.An intricate marriage of guitar, strings, piano tinkles and even addictions of Moogs and classic drum machines each one perfectly placed and welcomed into the fold in each instance see the three instrumentals that adorn this record for further proof.
Recent single ‘Imperial’ is the second notch in the backbone, its clicking beat, is draped with Hunt’s effortlessly fascinating prose littered with morbid imagery his voice a shivering hand of help for a loved one that’s clearly ‘going through it’ visualising the worst, and hoping for the best. It possess the quality of the best indie pop songs, a majestic statement of intention that rides upon unobtrusive tunefulness, sliding harmonicas, and gentle backings that hold Hunt aloft toward greater climbs…. ‘ Bluebells’ subtly weaves a path into your bosom, twisting acoustics walk the path garnished by Hunt as he gracefully stretches toward the comfort and companionship of home. (‘Inside these painted stones and perfect days we rent’).
There’s a harder more obviously melancholic edge to be felt here too that harks to the work of Edwyn Collins or Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, from ‘Parliament Hill’ its twanging earnestness(‘I fill my pen with blood/ To write to you when we were young’), rides rippling beat, that picks the tempo toward a gentle 50s trot, sewn with illuminating instrumental flourishes, as Hunt reconciles past devotions. While ‘Russian Doll’ is perhaps the only work here, that harks back to ‘Profit in Your Poetry’’s more immediate imagery, redolent of the Hidden Cameras best work, tongue twisting couplets given life by a twitching snare and low slung Rickenbacker.
‘Whistle and they’ll come to you’ is heart stoppingly beautiful, a waltz of sorts, Hunt’s economy of words is thrown into sharp focus by a isolated delicate keyboard touches. It possess that indefinable melancholia of loss and longing that was conjured up by The Smiths ‘Back to the old house’ meeting the theme tune to a black and white movie: its intensely personal and compelling imagery is unforgettable (Each milky pearl/Leaves a stain on your skin/It’s the prettiest noose in the world/Stay down flashing chewing gum smiles/As you shiver and fall) woven by a yearning flute line, in its final dying bars.
‘Helping hands’ follows in the line of great wistful indie pop albums, from Belle and Sebastian’s classic ‘Tigermilk’ to the Tindersticks ‘’Simple Pleasure’’ it’s refreshingly drawn of personal experience and assembled with the utmost care and attention: filtered with a quality and maturity. Qualities often cast aside in today’s fickle music industry that seeks the next buzz band. In ‘Helping Hands,’ Butcher Boy have penned a third chapter in their trilogy of immense accomplishment. Invite it into your life, it’s essential listening.