Sunday, 27 April 2014

Album of the Week #21

Artist: Voluntary Butler Scheme
Album: A Million Ways
Year: 2014
Label: Split Records

It's one of those little oddities that music created by a one man band seems to automatically go up in people's estimations. From Paul McCartney's McCartney II  to Tame Impala's Lonerism, it is often surprising to hear that such complex albums have actually been written, recorded and produced by a lone individual. The Slowdown by solo artist Pilote, an early album of the week on this very blog, is another example of the masterful compositional skills that some individuals possess. Which brings us to this album by one man band Rob Jones, aka The Voluntary Butler Scheme.

With releases under his Voluntary Butler Scheme moniker dating back to 2009's debut album At Breakfast, Dinner, Tea, Jones has quietly been building up an impressive band of followers, with recognition from the likes of NME, Radio 1, 6 Music, XFM and even The Sun. He's also played sessions for Huw Stephens, Marc Riley and Dermot O'Leary and drawn praise from none other than Suggs, of Madness fame. It's an impressive CV for sure, yet this wide-ranging support hasn't exactly led to mainstream success.

Melding together trumpets (A LOT of trumpets), synths, guitars, bass and more with effortless ease, Jones manages to create a densely layered yet approachable album, one that is underpinned by his affable, relatable lyrics and multi-tracked vocals. The almost endless brass accompaniments throughout recall quintessentially British records by the likes of Blur, The Kinks and, for a more contemporary reference, Sweet Baboo.

The glitchy electronic beats and shuffling drums of album opener The Q Word soon give way to an extended brass outro and Jones' heartfelt, repeated plea Don't take your love away from me becoming an All You Need Is Love-esque mantra. It isn't the strongest indicator as to the direction of the remainder of the album, however. The rest packs a much more concise pop punch, rarely going over the three minute mark, even if that heavy brass influence is a prevalent theme throughout.

But it's not all charming little trumpeted numbers. Brain Freeze melds a funky guitar hook with a typically melodic vocal delivery and catchy lyrics, whilst the closing title track is a far woozier and blissed out affair than much of what precedes it. You might find you're often having to remind yourself that this record has been put together entirely by an individual, for despite the plethora of catchy, poppy numbers, the added instrumentation make it a far more complex listen that it initially seems.

Quinzhee is a sun-kissed nugget of great pop music, with the vocal hook I'm building us a house out of snow likely to be a welcome earworm for days to come. It sounds effortlessly constructed and delivered by Jones, which is a testament to his masterful songwriting skills. He hasn't achieved anything like mainstream success as a result of his talents, but mainstream success for this album wouldn't quite feel right. A Million Ways To Make Gold is an endearing and personable listen that somehow feels precisely like a hidden gem - and I kinda hope it will stay that way.

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