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Album Review: Will Butler "Policy"

Quick Review: Policy is a cluttered collection of songs not unlike a movie that fails to settle on what its actors are supposed to be doing or where the viewer’s focus should wander. Although no doubt well-intentioned in the sphere of indie rock, Will Butler will likely only satisfy the most enthusiastic Arcade Fire fans.  

Full Review: Few great indie bands of the past decade have had as much success in finally achieving the same spotlight attention as Montreal rock band Arcade Fire. Whether you think they are pretentious, polarizing, or simply eccentric, no-one can deny that the work in their career thus far has been consistently remarkable. This year, Will Butler – not to be confused with older brother and Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler – is set to release his debut solo album, entitled Policy. Will is a multi-instrumentalist in Arcade Fire, playing many instruments that include synths, bass, guitars, percussion, trombone, sitar, and occasional backing vocals. So what does his solo album sound like? Arcade Fire? Something entirely different? Let’s have a listen…

The album sets off with “Take My Side,” a jangly and fun Black Lips-esque opening track distinctly different from what you might expect from Arcade Fire. Instead, it’s a garage-rock inspired jam that is quite the opposite, lacking the sophistication and flair of typical Arcade Fire lyrics. However, the next track, “Anna,” takes us in a drastically different direction. Synthesizers and background vocals characterize what sounds like either an abandoned Reflektor outtake or an obscure new wave hit.

Next is, “Finish What I Started,” a reluctant piano ballad that continues to build to a chorus that never appears – hence the title? Despite that, “Son of God,” treads back into familiar territory as an excellent indie rock tune reminiscent of Suburbs-era Arcade Fire. “I’ve been here forever in the cold, waiting in the weather while you go out searching for hearts of gold,” Will contends in what is perhaps, both lyrically and musically, the highlight of the record.

“Something’s Coming” ventures onto a more experimental level as an anxiety-ridden track. The kaleidoscope of sounds and influences become more than you can pinpoint, however, and the track becomes slightly repetitive by the time it ends. The following song, “What I Want,” aims high with the goal of reaching Arcade Fire album-track standards, but fails to miss the mark. Just barely though, as it’s still a rocking song full of whimsical – and if you think too hard, deep – lyrics. “Sing to Me” verges on something almost akin to a gospel tune but still retains its role as being one of the slower ballads on the album. The closing track, “Witness,” turns the tables once more and picks up the pace to end the record on a high, if questionably satisfying, note.

In just under thirty minutes, this whirlwind album is one heck of a listen. But will it please fans of the critically-acclaimed Arcade Fire, whose albums are held to a painstakingly high standard? In actuality, it may just fall short. Hardcore fans will be sure to find inspiration in between the musing lyrics and experimental attempts of the younger Butler brother; however, listeners from the outside may not find it to be as accessible. 

Although Policy aims to explore an array of genres, the musical substance is too inconsistent to accomplish such a quest successfully, even if it is well-intentioned. Instead, the focus wanders aimlessly, testing the waters in a variety of styles but never setting foot deeper. "I've tried my best, and my best is half-hearted," muses Will early on in the album, a thought that maybe just captures more than the lyrics imply. 

Will Butler is no doubt an admirable musician, but Policy will likely be swept into the shadows of previous and future Arcade Fire endeavors. Despite this, as a solo record, it serves its core purpose; Will utilized his own creative space as an outlet for experimentation away from the influence of the rest of his bandmates. Policy is indeed a jumbled hodgepodge of sound and style, but it still leaves the door open to future work with – or without – Arcade Fire that even the casual fan of indie rock can’t help but be curious about. 

Policy is set to release March 10, 2015 on Merge Records. You can purchase the album here on Merge's website, and view additional merchandise items and tour dates. 

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