Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Holding On: A Few Brief Words About The New Butterfly Child EP (And A Very Belated Review Of The Last Album)

The music of Butterfly Child (one Joe Cassidy, basically) lends itself to adjectives. That those adjectives are sometimes "ethereal" and "transcendent" is okay. That set of terms says a lot about this music and one could be forgiven for lazily lumping this music in with shoegaze stuff.

But, really, that would be too easy. Just like the music of A.R. Kane, an act Cassidy worked with, lent itself to the same terms, the same lazy categorization, the reality is that sometimes writers just don't know what the hell they're talking about, especially when hearing something new that brushes beyond genre boundaries. More than shoegaze, the tunes of Butterfly Child, an act now returned from somewhere, are closer in spirit to the more expansive moments on late period Boo Radleys records, or Seefeel tracks with more focus, more purpose. If you've been away from his music, an easy entry-point is the A Shot In The Dark EP, out Friday. But first, let me get us caught up.

It is absolutely inexplicable to me that I didn't know about Futures (2015) until recently. I say that not 'cause the music is great -- it is -- but because I am so late to the party with this one. Scratching my head here and trying to figure out how, given the sorts of things I listen to for pleasure, and the number of PR firms that submit things to me for coverage on this site, I was just not aware of Futures (2015) when it first dropped last year. The return of Butterfly Child from oblivion is something to be trumpeted by anyone who followed his earlier releases in the Nineties. And on Futures that music has progressed significantly. Leaping completely the tired confines of shoegaze and the rote formalties of ambient, Cassidy has, more or less, staked out a new genre here. Lush, strikingly beautiful pieces like "Blind Me So I May See" and "Our Delays" seem of a piece with the recent progressions of Cassidy's peer Kevin Shields. If things are earth-shackled at all on a few moments on Futures, that's a plus as the song structures let a listener know that this is pop (of a sort) despite the feeling that at any moment the music may be at risk of simply floating away like a kite.

Still, for all that kind of talk, this stuff remains concise and lovely, like the simple "Holding On". This is precisely the sort of music that The Verve always seemed on the cusp of making but never quite could, the sort of big music that Mike Scott once sang about, an ego-less kind of expansion of moments on Eno-produced U2 albums -- all these things. On the slightly sharper riffs of "The Only Sound", Cassidy seems to be channeling a sun-dappled Robert Smith as the cut sounds, to me at least, a little like the best bits on the best Cure album (1989's Disintegration, 'natch) infused with something soulful and brave. On the lyrical "Still Learning To Crawl", or on the spry "Playfair Steps", Joe Cassidy has managed to make music every bit as "futuristic" and forward-thinking as any overhyped Radiohead long-player, and without so much affectation either. A record of profound beauty and simple and precise presentation, Futures (2015) places the music of Butterfly Child far closer to the early masterpieces from Talk Talk and The Blue Nile than it does to any shoegaze revivalist set. Superb and luminous throughout.

On the new A Shot In The Dark EP, out Friday, Butterfly Child offers up a few alternate takes along with a handful of new songs. First up, producer Stephen Hague remixes "A Shot In The Dark" to reveal the O.M.D. single that was seemingly lurking underneath the surface. In this new iteration, the track is light and effortlessly pop in the very best sense of that word. If Prefab Sprout had ever pursued more electronic textures, the result might have sounded just like this. Elsewhere, on "Holding On (Orchestral Version)", a listener hears a hint of Britpop singles like those early Embrace (U.K.) cuts, or a seminal release like "Higher Than The Sun" from Primal Scream. Direct and affecting, I prefer this version to the one on Futures (2015), if the truth were known. The most memorable cut of the 5 on this EP is surely "Caught In Between The Middle" which unfurls like the most sublime bit of business those cats in Boo Radleys ever released. This song retains a directness that a lot of the so-called shoegaze music could never muster. More Moose, or A.R. Kane, than anything else, the track distills the whole appeal of the music of Butterfly Child down into one 2-and-a-half-minute cut.

What remains so striking about the music of Butterfly Child when a listener spins either Futures (2015) or the A Shot In The Dark EP is how succinct Joe Cassidy can be. For music this expansive, and this expressive, it's downright remarkable how unpretentious the results remain. Cassidy writes big moments -- and both releases are full of crescendos, and waves of sound leading to crescendos -- but what makes this such affecting material is that Joe Cassidy knows exactly what to leave out, what spaces to leave in the songs, and how not to overdo anything. Simultaneously subtle and rapturous, the music here demands attention and rewards listeners, along with fans like me who are so happy to know that this guy is back.

Futures (2015) is out now while A Shot In The Dark EP will be out as of Friday. More details on the official Butterfly Child website, or via the official Butterfly Child Facebook page.