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Posted on March 24th, 2015 (2:00 pm) by N. Neal Paradise

Some quite amazing things happen when two people have the same parents. Most commonly, they look alike, talk alike, and think alike. Sometimes, though, one tries his best to distinguish himself from his sibling – dressing differently, acting differently, even arbitrarily forming opposite opinions simply to be contrary. But through it all, they still share a commonality that reaches to areas both expected and surprising. They’re similar, but not congruent triangles.

There are a lot of good reasons Will Butler’s first solo album, Policy, sounds a great deal like Arcade Fire, the band from which he hails. One, it’s just natural – it’s where he comes from, so why not? Two, it comes on the heels of Arcade Fire’s greatest achievement yet, Reflektor, both in terms of popularity and cohesion of statement. However, we at IYS have a hunch that the third reason is the most likely: Will Butler is Win Butler’s little brother, and just like the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, two apples from the same tree don’t fall far from each other.

Policy feels like an album of songs not chosen to be on Arcade Fire albums. In that way, it’s pretty easy to imagine the situation: everyone loves Win’s songs and thinks they’re brilliant, and Will just gets a pat on the head and patronizing smiles. “Oh, you wrote some songs, too? That’s so cute. Just like your big brother!”

Besides the previous scenario being pure fantasy, it completely discounts how very, very good Policy really is. The eight song album doesn’t present anything new or earth shaking, but does it need to? All the songs exist in their own space, are easy to listen to, and make few demands of the listener. Much like how siblings like to distinguish themselves from each other, this is exactly opposite to what Reflektor does. The latest Arcade Fire album is incredibly challenging, and while it’s completely worth it, it can be like running a marathon to get through its gloomy second half. Policy, on the other hand, alleviates all the ponderousness of Reflektor by simply being fun.

While Arcade Fire is the easiest touchstone for Policy, it’s far from the only influence Will Butler uses. The opener, “Take My Side,” has an excitement that recalls ‘60s rock and roll, as do “Son of God” and cap track “Witness.” Meanwhile, there’s subtle strangeness aplenty in “Something’s Coming,” like little bloops and bleeps at unexpected times. “Finish What I Started” is borderline maudlin, but Will proves that he’s just as awkwardly charming as his big brother.

Even typing that last sentence seems unfair, though. After all, nobody likes having their existence defined by their comparison to someone else. Why should Will have to stack up in any conceivable way to Win? Why does it matter? Isn’t Will his own person? Can’t he simply exist without Win constantly butting in, or without people forcing Win into Will’s world?

Of course, on a philosophical level, this would be nice. However, there’s something more important here, which I’m sure is true of Will and Win: brotherly love. In all likelihood, the two are the best of friends, and that relationship can’t be duplicated by non-blood. Win is most likely extremely proud of Will for Policy, and maybe Arcade Fire will play some of these tunes on their next tour. Above all, we can’t forget that the Butler brothers are brothers, and that there’s very little that trumps that.

Take all that brother stuff away and what still remains is that Policy is a great album. It is innocent yet worldly-wise, exuberant yet measured, and simultaneously intense and delicate. Its biggest foible is that it’s so short. Only eight songs long, this makes us wonder if Will Butler doesn’t have more good stuff hiding behind Win’s six-foot-plus shadow. We can only speculate what growing up in that shadow must have been like, but one thing is clear: it hasn’t hurt Will’s creativity one bit.

Track List:

  1. Take My Side
  2. Anna
  3. Finish What I Started
  4. Son of God
  5. Something's Coming
  6. What I Want
  7. Sing to Me
  8. Witness
Will Butler - Policy Review
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

82 / 100
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