Will Butler’s debut LP, Policy, absolutely screams Arcade Fire. It’s no coincidence: Will is a founding member of the indie rock band and brother of frontman Win Butler. After playing synth, bass and percussion on a series of epic albums, including 2013’s critically acclaimed Reflektor, he parlayed his success into an Academy Award nomination for his work on the score of the film Her. But being in one of the finest bands in the world and receiving an Oscar nod wasn’t enough for Butler, whose debut solo album was released on Merge Records on Tuesday.
The single Anna starts out with pulsing drum with a playful keyboard beat. It’s extremely catchy and has a lot of hum-able moments. It also features a piano flourish or two and a horn section. Although the song reminds one of Arcade Fire, it’s more of the straight-forward variety and can quite rightly be compared to Talking Heads. Its levity and its tight song structure show the man has plenty of talent as a songwriter.
Finish What I Started has a pretty piano groove, with angelic background vocals. The theme of the song is regret that he didn’t get something done. It could easily come off as an Arcade Fire b-side sequel to the 2010 hit, Ready to Start. It’s like he is finally numb to that pretentious feeling of wanting to change the world.
Son of God is surely a standout, with its proto-punk vibe and its big themes. It features a bouncy acoustic guitar rhythm, with more female background vocals. Sounds a bit like the description of an Arcade Fire song, huh?
What I Want is the most driving song on the record, and one of the most enjoyable. It definitely has some 70’s punk rock influence but you can say that about a lot of catchy indie rock records of the last 10 years.
Witness has a bit of a gospel-meets-60s rock sound, with a fast paced piano beat. Sounding like the leader of a gospel choir, Butler says “Can’t Witness!”, to which the backup singers (most likely an actual choir) respond: “Not me!”.
Make no mistake, this is a pretty good record, but as good as the record is, something has to be said about the fact that it sounds like a collection of Arcade Fire outtakes. It’s brimming with big ideas, tons of instruments, and a slight new wave tinge. For hardcore fans of the band, this would be a good stopgap until they choose to release a new record. That isn’t the most horrible thing in the world, but it would have been nice to see Butler on his debut album try to give us something new.