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Helping Hands

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Album Review

Attempting to shake off the comparisons with fellow Glaswegians Belle & Sebastian that their wistful, indie pop sound understandably suggested, eight-piece outfit Butcher Boy pursue a darker and more downbeat direction for their third album, Helping Hands. Indeed, the mournful, cello-led instrumentals which bookend its 13 tracks ("J Is for Jamie," "Every Other Saturday Night") provide a suitable sense of foreboding and reflection on an album drenched in melancholy, from the bittersweet Spaghetti Western-tinged alt-country of "I Am the Butcher" to the reverb-drenched, Lloyd Cole-esque dissection of loneliness on "The Day Our Voices Broke" to the haunting, ambient synth pop of "Whistle and I'll Come to You." Making use of the accomplished musicianship on board, the subtle orchestral arrangements, and frontman John Blain Hurt's quivering vocals and eloquent poetic lyrics, undoubtedly helps to provide an effective mood piece. But occasionally, the constant introspection starts to wander a little aimlessly, particularly on the overlong six-minute "Bluebells," which never really builds on its early, jangly, alt-pop promise, and the avant-garde folk of the title track, which changes direction several times without ever producing anything approaching a memorable melody. It's ironic that Helping Hands only really finds its feet on the more romantic uptempo numbers that the band appear to want to distance themselves from, such as the joyous, guitar twanging surf-pop of "Your Cousins and I," and the driving Orange Juice-ish new wave of "Imperial." Butcher Boy were always going to find it hard to step out of the shadows of their more celebrated chamber pop neighbors, and while Helping Hands is by no means a miserable failure in doing so, it's at its strongest when it embraces their similarities rather than their differences. ~ Jon O'Brien, Rovi

Helping Hands, Butcher Boy
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