A divide has been developing over the last half-century in the music industry between the experience of live performance and expectations of the studio recording. For decades, bands and musicians have grasped the evolving music technology that has provided recordings to go above and beyond the capabilities of live sound. Our musical culture has adapted, inviting acoustically impossible combinations like crisp, synthetically compressed pop star vocals and overly reverberant guitars, but the Builders And The Butchers have broken this trend as the band returns to the raw essence of live sound on its latest LP, Dead Reckoning.
The Portland-based folk rock quintet returned to the studio alongside Adam Selzer (The Decemberists, M. Ward, She And Him) to produce Dead Reckoning with the idea of recreating the aspect of playing music that the band loves most—connecting with an audience. Each track on the album consistently sounds as if the listener is sitting in a living room with the Builders before them. The majority of the album was tracked using minimal overdubs in live takes with the band in a single room while only isolating Ryan Sollee’s vocals and guitar.
The objective has certainly been met with Dead Reckoning, with a sound that is authentic and personal. The first track, “I Broke The Vein” opens with finger-picked acoustic guitar in the foreground while electric riffs and keyboard linger behind. But the track rapidly picks up speed as Brandon Hafer’s melodic drumming joins vocals and distorted bass. Later in the album, “Blood For You,” the raw quality of the Builders And The Butchers is unleashed in the duel between Sollee’s voice and an empty beat created by various stomps and rattling noises; it’s like the track is proving a point that the band has stripped everything but the bare essentials of its own musical values. The album is tied together by “Family Tree,” which unites the band’s bluegrass influence with a gospel feel, driven by vocal harmonies and Ray Rude’s organ.
By definition, “dead reckoning” means navigating a vessel based on its past position, speed and drift in order to determine a future location—basically driving blind—and there isn’t a better title for this album. The Builders And The Butchers have drifted off course with Dead Reckoning. Its sound doesn’t fit in with the state of today’s recorded music and for many listeners that may make it unbearably boring. However, it is obvious that the journey the Builders set out on in making this album has been nothing but pleasant to the members of the band and that is commendable in itself. The album can simply be described as a great band supporting quality lyrics, served up as organically as possible.