The Builders and The Butchers - Western Medicine
Record Label: Badman Records
Release Date: June 4, 2013
Banjo-bandying folk-rock may be in right now, but The Builders and The Butchers shirk earnest, masses-friendly strumming for highly conceptual, showy hellfire folk. The wild west campfire rock is rife with homestead characters, gunslinger landscapes, and twangy preacher yowls. It’s ambitious, no-nonsense story-telling. It’s too bad the emotions Western Medicine engenders in listeners aren't nearly as vivid as the picture its painting.
The songs contained within the sulfuric horizons and demons both inner and outer of Western Medicine are in some manner formed from the stories of Cormac McCarthy, a two-edged sword of a fact that’s both intriguing and damning. McCarthy’s stories could can certainly lend to something monolithic; when under this suddenly glaring light, though, the album’s ineffective moments come off as even more rote than they would without that information.
Failing to meet the heights of peerless influences shouldn't soil an entire work, though. Western Medicine achieves admirably picturesque heights at times, popping up at the intersections of the more well-done illustrations of wild west/otherworldly imagery and the most twisted, mulitdimensional moments of composition.
There’s a cohesive, solidified vision here that’s throwing haymakers at every turn, landing some but whiffing on more. There is conscious effort to create something notable; subtle flourishes and unexpected subtleties amidst all the broad strokes enrichen an album that could have easily ridden hammy hellfire folk, damnation lyrics, and a strong voice.
“ Poison Water” is the easy standout. The song takes a step out of the past for some modern rock gloom, but the band takes the step effectively. The song gives listeners something to believe in, an example of how great what’s being done here could be.
Unfortunately, “Poison Water” also casts a long shadow under which the rest of the album withers. Other tracks work well enough, but only in the sense that they fit the narrative capably. They don’t shape or define anything; they merely fall in line.
Though it may have been out of character, some lightness, tonal shifts, or anachronistic elements could've gone far to make this album better. The dire tones and lofty ambition loom large, dragging the album down over the course of its run. Western Medicine’s an admirable effort, and even an enjoyable one - but not altogether a successful one.
I agree with most of what you said, but I'd give the album an 8/10. Not as good as Salvation, but better than Dead Reckoning. Everything in their catalog is miles ahead of their contemporaries. And the live show is phenomenal. In addition, their drummer is the brewmaster at one of the greatest beer companies in all the land.