Monday, January 28, 2013

Album Review: Stuart Warwick - The Butcher's Voice

Album Rating: B+
In a review for Perfume Genius’ 2012 release Put Ur Back N 2 It, I ran against the grain by dismissing the album as emotionally hollow. To summarise an old review that hasn’t been re-read, the sophomore effort tended to dive for old tricks assigned to typically “sad” albums in what could easily have been a fevered scramble to match his debut (read: to imitate genuine suffering). The internet disagreed: undermining what was otherwise a perfectly mediocre review and forcing me to wait for an excuse to reinforce my opinion. Despite introducing itself with what might be the most off putting album cover of the year - keeping in mind the fact it’s only January - The Butcher’s Voice provides this excuse. Inviting comparisons with a lone male voice on top of a minimalist emotional backing, though concerning himself more with intimacy that emotion, Stuart Warwick perfectly displays the power of a particularly human approach to songwriting.

The tracklist alone should hint at this. Song titles can be blunt, confusing and off putting in a way that rejects publicity and champions brutal honesty. For instance, “Damed Binned Cow” is unlikely to be uttered on a radio show and the chance of someone proclaiming their love for a song titled “Man With a Pussy” is slim, at best. The titles do their job perfectly, however, since it shouldn’t take too long to work out the dominance of gender roles in Stuart’s list of themes: a pertinent topic for a high-pitched, soft-spoken vocalist who chooses to crone over quiet guitar and piano sweeps.

There’s a very implicit anger drawn here as Stuart sings his resignation through gritted teeth. An incredibly well picked sample at the beginning of “The Fairer Sex” sets musings on the indifference of gender against barely stifled laughter, with the final uproar echoing into the song’s introduction. While not entirely cruel, it’s a powerful precursor to the quietest song: stirring up the water so that - once coloured by the instrumentation and lyrics - it still spins as this slow and steady song becomes something of a response to the abject ridicule in the sample. This effort alone fluently portrays Stuart as a kind of exhausted victim, and topped off with some select instrumental flourishes the song becomes incredibly powerful for one with so few and simple component parts.

Elsewhere he allows himself to be a little more bombastic. Thumping piano notes with clicks and claps help propel “Birds That Don’t Fly” to a dramatic crescendo before collapsing into familiar rumination. Likewise, the chorus of the title track is structured round powerful drum beats which stick out like concrete spikes in an otherwise subdued sonic field. However, he never gets ahead of himself: in isolation these moments could seem fairly standard, as it’s only by comparison that Stuart makes the minute additions feel like a spectacle. A similar approach is taken with any emotional delivery, with the most emotionally desperate point only comes in the entirely instrumental “Melancholonica.” Often he chooses to remain reserved to allow the emotional signs their space.

Overall, it’s clear that the emphasis in The Butchers Voice is to convey instead of impress, and while this may be explained by the few dog-eared edges of Stuart’s production the effect this has on the album’s likability is profound. This may introduce itself with an amateurish cover and shy introduction, but it will leave as a close friend.

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1. Sailors
2. Birds That Don't Fly
3. Cherished Muscle
4. The Butcher's Voice
5. Man With a Pussy
6. Dreams of a Tomato Can
7. Dame Binned Cow
8. Crush
9. Malancholonica
10. The Nail That Sticks Out and Gets Pounded
11. The Fairer Sex

1 comment:

  1. wow, this is a really, really well-written review, Jonny. props.