When Arcade Fire released their 2013 behemoth Reflektor, noone anticipated it to be the massive success it ended up becoming. The record,the Canadian group’s fourth, enabled Win Butler and co. to headline festivalsthe world and take an ever bigger step up from third album The Suburbs, which in itself was already a critical success. Whilst Arcade Fire were touring the record, multi-instrumentalist band member Will Butler (brother of frontman Win) recorded his debut solo record Policy, which is now streaming online through Spotify.
Policy, an album which consists of eight songs, opens with lead single Take My Side. In and amongst blues rock riffs, Butler gives off an early Rolling Stones vibe as he wails his way through the track. Its pace is very danceable (try dancing this as a jive, it will work), particularly thanks to the drum and bass combination. “I remember when we were pretty young, we’d often run together till the setting of the sun” reminisces Butler as the backing vocals hark back memories of The Suburbs-era Arcade Fire. Anna goes on to do away with the blues rock and introduce a synth-pop element to Butler’s music. A catchy drum beat is accompanied by a synth melody and brass which sounds like it could fit in on Arcade Fire’s Reflektor. “Hey little Anna, you’re the one rising before the lazy sun” sings Butler ahead of some adlibbed “bam, bam, bam” sections and a catchy chorus. Pianos enter the frame later on as the song does little to shake off its addictive rhythm. Anna is the kind of the song which will one day become a staple at indie discos, something which the brass and synth definitely play a hand in. “Sharpen a stone, because you’ve gotta get money” continues Butler, before Finish What I Started takes a step back and enters ballad territory. “Someone please finish what I started” he sings in a demure tone, before adding “I tried my best, but my best was half-hearted”. A selection of minor chords and dreary backing vocals make this song so encapsulating, regardless of its simplicity. Coming in at just over two minutes, it’s one of the shortest tracks on this 27 minute long album.
Son of God’s acoustic guitar intro is swiftly joined by drums and ambient synths as the pace picks up once again, with its chorus being one ready to be sung along to. “Whoah, if the son of god would write it down for me in his own handwriting” sings Butler as the song does little to lose pace, once again sounding like The Suburbs-era Arcade Fire. All eight songs on Policy have some sort of Arcade Fire influence present, although Something’s Coming probably features this influence the least. A synth-led melody and groovy backing vocals make this one of the best songs on the album. It’s a downbeat dancefloor filler perfect for alternative discos the world over. Just over halfway, Butler claims “I came, I saw, I conquered. Then I went to bed” in what is undoubtedly the best lyric of the year so far. If Something’s Coming won’t get you dancing, then nothing will. What I Want enters punk-y/grunge territory by way of a jangly melody and upbeat verse where the guitars hark back to Arcade Fire’s Joan of Arc, yet slower. “I remember just about everything” he energetically sings before female backing vocals repeat the word “shock” over and over in typical gospel style. “If you wanna take my hand, I will buy you a pony” he sings as he continues to use absurd lyrical pairings to prove his point over the course of just over four minutes. “My body’s not prepared for this” he wails during the breakdown, which is followed by a short-but-sharp guitar solo.
Penultimate track Sing to Me re-enters ballad territory, as Butler sings, “sing to me, because I’m tired like I’ve never been before”. With just a piano and a selection of ambient noises to accompany him, Sing to Me is the most stripped-back track on the record, perfectly making way for album closer Witness. An upbeat pace from the off incorporates catchy vocals and a repetitive synthesizer melody which is perfectly complemented by fast-paced drums and a pulsating bassline. “Oh it’s up to you” repeats Butler before a gospel-led chorus sees female vocalists engage with Butler in a spot of call and response. “Look me in the eyes, because you’ve been telling lies” he sings with the utmost energy as we slowly start to depart the journey which Butler has taken us on for the last near-thirty minutes. Witness is an upbeat and glorious ending to one of the finest alternative albums of the year so far.
Despite the vast success which Arcade Fire has registered in the last years, Will Butler’s solo output might one day be just as successful if Policy is anything to go by.