Will Butler is in Arcade Fire.

I had to get that out of the way before I reviewed this album in full, because it’s almost impossible to evaluate his solo effort without having a twinge of thought about AF.  Will is the brother of lead singer Win Butler, and though Will has been responsible for a lot of the groovy instrumentals and charismatic stage presence of the band, Win is indisputably the star of Arcade Fire.  Which is cool, because Will Butler’s solo debut, Policy, should establish him as a premier artist in his own right.

Where Arcade Fire have been serving up some sprawling, arena-ready rock music for a few years now, Policy takes Butler back to a more stripped down, yet eclectic collection of jams that show his versatility as a songwriter.  Gone are the moody, expansive soundscapes of AF’s most recent, Reflektor, replaced by a purposefully-messy and standard accoutrement of arrangements and vocals.

The album kicks off with first single, “Take My Side”, which is biting and quick, with wild vocals that call to mind The Clash and like-minded 70s post-punk folks.  “What I Want” continues this tonal trajectory with its frenetic sound and includes some hilariously weird lyrics, including a reference to ‘pony macaroni’ and opening couplet, “Tell me what you want, babe, and I will get it/Though it might take 3 to 5 business days”.  Both act as excellent companions to the slightly more toned down “Son of God”, which is my favorite track on the album.  It starts with a cool acoustic line and builds off of that, including a nasty electric guitar solo and cool, Motown-inspired callback choruses.

Speaking of, Motown and funk are definitely an influence here, but spun in their own ways.  Album closer “Witness” sounds like it belongs on some Barry Gordy-produced records from back in the day.  It’s all keyboards and callbacks, rich with production, and a definite highlight for the album.  “Somethings Coming” almost sounds like Stevie Wonder‘s “Superstition” at first, but then gets much weirder, with paranoid vocals that bring to mind early Talking Heads.

Butler can clearly do the frantic and funky incredibly well, but the two slower tracks on the album are also incredibly strong.  “Finish What I Started” is piano-and-drum driven, with minimal backing, and acts as a quirky spin on a Beatle-esque piano-driven pop song.  “Sing to Me” is about as minimal as you can get, with a repeated lyric structure and some cool ambience to back up the striking piano chords.  Butler pulls this change in tone off spectacularly, and both songs are well-placed in the tracklist to create a solid flow.

I’m sure Arcade Fire will be mentioned in every review of this album, and for good reason — Butler a big part of the creation of those songs, though his influence is somewhat overlooked.  What Policy provides is an excellent step into the spotlight for him.  It’s a strong collection and a really cool blend of influences that create a totally original product. It’s a short album (8 songs), but it’s shiny, bright, and burns quick.  An excellent spring jam.


Will Butler
10 March, 2015
Merge Records

Overall Score
95 %

Will Butler steps out on his own.

Variety 95%
Flow 90%

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Self-deprecating fundraising lackey, avocado connoisseur, pop culture aficionado, latte-drinking liberal elitist.

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