Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Feral Horse - Tyler Butler
SCQ Rating: 64%
Certain musical styles will never age and Tyler Butler knows this. Fronting the buttoned-down folk that hovers around Feral Horse, Butler never sounds young or old, in love or fed up. Even when claiming he’s “in love all the time” on the title track, Butler doesn’t sound very pleased about it. With an appealingly longing voice, the Edmonton-based songwriter certainly fits the often sad-sack genre, standing alone or leading a loose group of musicians through troubled recollections.
Unfurling with two brilliant tracks, ‘Maythorn’ and ‘House Like a Shell’, Feral Horse sets the bar rather high; the opener featuring some of Butler’s clearest vocals amid the life-affirming shuffle of bass and percussion, the latter song a dimly atmospheric crawler fleshed out with sparse piano. Full of wise lyricism and focused moods, these tracks offset each other well before settling into the mini-album’s slow-core heart. At this midpoint, maybe around ‘Opium War’ or ‘Tomato Fever’, listeners will either pass or fail Butler’s litmus test, choosing to stick with his increasingly introverted tales or stepping back, and that’s the reality of a release so dedicatedly one-note. Heart-on-sleeve narratives need some resistance - if not executed in perspective, than at least in aesthetic – to keep listeners attentive or curious. Maintaining such a low-key vibe throughout is an admirable position to take but, in the case of ‘Beluga’ where no element reasonably distinguishes itself from what’s already been done, this songwriter’s book risks becoming self-therapeutic.
As with Feral Horse’s early highlights, small details continue to unveil themselves upon repeated listens. Closing track ‘Horse and Rider’, for example, acquires a depth of distant guitar tones that swim beneath its structure and give Butler a setting to paint with his vocals. By the time a dissonant guitar chimes in, saying more in its contrast of negative space than half the songs preceding it, ‘Horse and Rider’ makes up for Feral Horse’s indifferent middle-section. Worth considering: what true music enthusiast objects to letting the right song disarm them? What music fan doesn’t want to be brought down into a navel-gazing ballad if it envelops them convincingly? The artists (like Sun Kil Moon) who’ve crafted elegant careers on that singular ambition had to look outward, taking in their surroundings to better understand themselves. By giving added depth to his arrangements – a time and place, if you will - there’s no reason Tyler Butler cannot do the same.