In Brief: A short but sweet pop record with just the right balance of cunning production techniques, fun riffs, and raw emotion.
When you’ve just been introduced to a musician by the name of Butterfly Boucher, you’re probably tempted to make a pun on her name, or at the very least to ask if it’s a stage name (which it isn’t). When you first see a picture of the Australian singer/songwriter, you might feel inclined to ask if that’s a dude. (It’s not. It’s just a really short haircut.) Then it might occur to you that you don’t know how to pronounce her last name. “Boo-SHAY? That’s French, right?” (Nope. It rhymes with “voucher”.) I figured I’d dispel these potential misunderstandings from the get-go, so that we can get to the good stuff – namely, her self-titled album, released last year, which I was fortunate to catch wind of via NoiseTrade.com and also her appearance in Katie Herzig‘s backing band. It became one of my favorite records of a year that really didn’t have enough such things.
Though it might not be apparent on the surface, Ms. Boucher is a bit of a renaissance woman. She knows her way around many an instrument, and while live footage and promotional imagery will often show her wielding an electric guitar or maybe a bass, she’s every bit as comfortable in low-key acoustic mode or glammed-up synth mode as she is doing the whole “rock chick” thing. Appropriately for a self-titled album, Butterfly Boucher showcases her in all three modes, sometimes morphing from one to the other mid-song. It seems like a breezy pop record at first, with just enough spit and shine applied to the potential singles and just enough vulnerability on the ballads to give it a cohesive feeling throughout. It’s not until you realize how many of the sonic layers present were contributed by the woman herself, rather than the too-many-cooks scenario present in too many recording studios today, that it becomes clear what a personal stamp she’s put on this record. (Watching her perform all 10 of these songs in a mostly raw, stripped-down format on YouTube, some solo and some with Katie Herzig and Missy Higgins, also adds dimension to tracks you might have overlooked.) It’s hard to throw all of these elements at the same album without making it sound overproduced or disjointed. But thanks to an ear for funky rhythmic guitar licks, a smooth but sassy vocal performance that sets her apart from some of her chirpier contemporaries, and an innate ability to ooze “cool” while never coming across as disingenuous, there isn’t a single dud track to be found here.
Lyrically, most of Boucher’s material hits that sweet spot where it’s introspective, but not overindulgent navel-gazing, and it’s fun, but not superficial. She allows herself one goofy dance track just for the pure party of it, and while there are playful elements present in the music elsewhere, these songs are largely about navigating the fallout of relationships that didn’t quite pan out as one would have hoped. You’d think that would classify this as a breakup album, but there’s a certain defiance to it in the up-tempo songs, as if to say she’s going to wring whatever wisdom she can out of the fallout, and get back on her feet and into the game so quickly that nobody’ll be moping around feeling sorry for her. A delicate balance between pain and hope is maintained here, all the way through to the album’s closing track, where I simultaneously think “Yeah, I’ve been there”, and also, “Hey, that’s inspiring.” I certainly wouldn’t mind hearing Boucher take a few more chances on musical genre-hopping or left-field lyrical inspiration in the future, but what she’s got here is tight, focused, and ultimately admirable.
The just-for-fun dance track kicks off the album in style – it’s got the perfect combination of rhythmic electronic elements, and funky guitar riffing. From the title, it’s tempting to think that this could have been written as a response to Feist‘s “1234” – there’s a similar quirkiness to it, but this song is probably more representative of Boucher’s style than “1234” is of Feist’s. (Maybe if Feist didn’t approach most of her songs like they would immediately shatter if someone hit a drum too hard, the two might have a little more in common.) The numeric title refers to a count-off like you often hear bands do to clue everyone in as to the intended rhythm of a song, and it’s repeated in lively fashion throughout – a great opportunity for audience response in her live shows. The lyrics here keep it pretty light, focusing mostly on the role that music plays in the “chemical attraction” of falling in love. It’s a slickly seductive pop song with a curious chord progression that has an air of “playful mischief” to it. And there’s no better choice for a vocal cameo on such a song than Katie Herzig, who chimes in during the bridge with the same sort of quirky spoken-word that made her song “Hey Na Na” so ludicrously irresistible. “So you think you can dance, do you?” she taunts. I don’t, but I’ll admit her invitation is hard to resist.
2. The Weather
This mid-tempo rocker is one of the more electric-guitar driven tracks on the record. You might think it’s going to be a ballad from its slow, moody melody and relaxed syncopation at the beginning, but it grows in both volume and confidence as Butterfly sings of rainy days and gloomy, gray city streets and ultimately determines, “I won’t let the weather ruin all this pleasure”. The gradual mood shift is like seeing brilliant rays of sun come peeking through the clouds as a rainstorm passes, and her optimism here is infectious as she promises a loved one to make the best of the day during the bridge – “Don’t say the day is over/Let’s go back to bed/I won’t let you down.” Honestly, that’s probably the most suggestive that any of her love songs ever get – and I can relate, because as much as I hate being outside when it’s raining, hearing that same rain coming down around you while you’re safe in a warm bed with someone you love is something I’d definitely consider romantic.
3. Not Fooling Around
One of the most strikingly melancholy songs on the record is also one of its finest in terms of mixing technology with intimacy – there’s a heavy emphasis on keyboards and synthesizers here, but Butterfly’s sorrowful vocal melody is what still rings out most prominently. It turns out to be surprisingly brisk for a tragic breakup song, with the synths and a rather unusual chord progression from the guitar taking over during the bridge – so even if you ignore the lyrics altogether, it’s still one of the most musically interesting tracks on the record. Butterfly sings about a relationship that she let go of too easily, like there’s a deep sadness bubbling just under her stoic resolve that “I’m not fooling around tonight/I’m not trying to win you back”. Apparently she played it so cool that a guy decided she wasn’t really into it, and he basically called her bluff and ended it. She admits to the facade at the end of the song, which in its last few seconds strips away all of the glitz and glamour, leaving Butterfly’s voice and acoustic guitar hanging out there, all by her lonesome: “Fine, I’m trying to win you back.”
4. Warning Bell
The intimacy of a woman and her guitar is left uncluttered here – aside from a bit of reverb and the support of a second guitar, Butterfly’s all alone with her trusty electric pal here. (Some horns, keyboards, and light drums do show up later, but all of these are applied very lightly and don’t interrupt the reflective mood in any way.) The gentle texture of this song is perfect for the humble tone with which Butterfly sings – “Life has taken all my pride/Now even hope is hard to find/I only meant to love you truly/I never meant to hurt you deeply.” The confessional tone of this one brings to mind some of Alanis Morissette‘s more downbeat relational post-mortems (just a lot less wordy), and even though there aren’t any spiritual overtones here, there’s a penitent sort of mood to it that gives me flashbacks to some of my favorite Jennifer Knapp ballads.
5. None the Wiser
Synths dominate this song, more than any other on the album – it feels like nearly every element, from the bass to the plucked strings, to the drums, to the churchy bells that ring out during the bridge, are coming from the pre-programmed settings on a keyboard. so it’s somewhat surprising when, despite a relatively up-tempo beat, this track doesn’t go for the same danceable effect as “5678!” There’s a feeling of being trapped in some sort of artificial stasis here, as she pleads for someone to “break the spell” and laments that “I’ll never get it right”. The melody is similarly downcast, favoring sympathy over hook value, making this one of the more curious tracks on the album – instead of going for any kind of a climactic effect, it merely says what it has to say and then coldly, impersonally fades out once its job is done.
6. Unashamed Desire
Here’s where a broken spirit musters up a little self-confidence and jumps headlong back into the fry, armed with nothing but sheer denomination. The muddy guitars and dark vocal melody at the beginning of this song might trick you into expecting another mope-fest, but when she breaks into the chorus, watch out. Butterfly certainly knows how to play it cool with a minimalistic approach during the verse as she sings almost monotonously, “Open up my pockets and take what you like/I’ve got nothing to hide.” But she comes out loud and proud on the guitar-driven refrain – “My unashamed desire is an open fire/And I’m not afraid to love!” Just to drive home this newfound, beautiful boldness, there’s a cowbell ringing out loud and proud during the bridge. It’s not quite as irresistibly fun as “5678!”, but this one’s extremely well-placed in the narrative of the album, like the turning point in a movie where our hero, beaten down by the bad guy, gets up and dusts herself off and vows that next time will be different.
7. I Wanted to Be the Sun
This one’s probably the most straightforward “rocker” on the album. Admittedly, several of the upbeat songs in the back half of the album sort of flew by me on the first listen, so while I enjoy Butterfly’s riffing and the way that she plays off of her band here (or, more likely, herself in the recorded version), it took me a while to dig into the lyrics. It’s mostly a defiant song, in keeping with the previous track as she declares “I don’t want to hurt any more”. In keeping with “The Weather”, this one seems to be about not wanting to waste time, but here it’s like she’s looking back on a relationship rather than trying to make the most of the time spent in that relationship. She’s unapologetic about wanting another chance, which is poetically stated in the chorus: “I wanted to be the one/I wanted to be the sun/On your skin, in the morning.”
8. Table For One
An infectious beat full of snare drums – and possibly timpani? – kicks off this song in tandem with another slinky guitar riff. Here, I think the fun rhythm might be a bit of a liability to a bittersweet song – it may just be that it’s the fourth up-tempo track in a row, but I feel like Butterfly’s got something really powerful here, with a powerful chorus melody that could have had an effect similar to “Warning Bell”, and also an interesting little melodic riff on what sounds like a glockenspiel, but there are too many production elements disguising the pain of a song that tries to explore the self-doubt and second-guessing that often occurs during that difficult transitional phase between relationships, when a single person has to learn how to love herself before she can get back into the game. I’m usually not one to critique songs for being upbeat – and this one’s still enjoyable to listen to, so it’s not a major complaint. But check out her impromptu “acoustic” version of this one on YouTube. It’s entirely acapella, and it really brings out the sense of longing and heartache that pervades the lyrics and melody.
9. Don’t Look Now
The album might just hit its emotional low point here. Much like “Warning Bell”, this one starts off with just Butterfly and some unadorned electric chords, though it picks up the pace a little earlier on, so it’s a bit of a pseudo-ballad, I guess. The sense that something’s horribly wrong inside her own heart as she laments a relationship lost unto the sands of time causes her to cry out with perhaps the most despairing vocal performances on the album – Butterfly’s not one to chew the scenery, but you can hear how her voice is about to break in some of the quieter moments here. The background ambience, though subtle, is beautiful, with echoing piano and thundering drums gradually building to a sympathetic climax.
10. Take It Away
After staring down that heartache and leaving the future a bit uncertain, Butterfly seems to pull out of her tailspin and determine that life’s too short to spend it all moping around. While this song, with its absolutely gorgeous rolling piano melody, laments the loss of innocence, it does so with a confidence that makes you feel like our heroine is going to bang on the doors of heaven itself until she gets back the feeling she once had before “it all got serious”. It’s the kind of song that could lead a person to cry happy tears (and judging from Butterfly’s response on a fan’s comment regarding her YouTube video, performing this one does occasionally get the waterworks going for her). Here we come back around to that theme of making the most of the life you’re given – she’s aware that “All the time in the world is slipping away”, which I guess is something we all grapple with as we make that slow, awkward transition out of young adulthood and into “middle age”. I’ve certainly felt the same as pretty much every word she sings here, and as horns and guitar and piano and echoing vocals ring out in the chorus, it becomes my personal battle cry too: “Take me away, please take it away/I wanna feel the way I did when I felt young.” It’s a stunning way to end the album, both lyrically and instrumentally as her “band” takes a nice little victory lap after the final chorus. Only one criticism here – after an entirely profanity-free album, it does seem a bit odd when she lets the phrase “Take this sh*t away” slip out in the midst of such an uplifting song. I suppose it underscores the frustration that comes with the absence of feeling that youthful innocence, but a little bit of grammatical ambiguity leads to unintentional humor, since the next line is, “And let it move me like it did when I felt young.” Hey, if you want sh*t to move you, just drink some really strong coffee and wait about an hour; that should do the trick. (Yes, I realize that’s not what she means. But like I’ve pointed out a few times concerning the aforementioned Ms. Morissette, there can be unintended consequences to throwing a word that colloquially means “bad stuff” but literally means “excrement” into a song that is not otherwise about such specifically unpleasant things.)
WHAT’S IT WORTH TO ME?
The Weather $1.75
Not Fooling Around $1.75
Warning Bell $1.25
None the Wiser $1
Unashamed Desire $1.25
I Wanted to Be the Sun $1
Table For One $.75
Don’t Look Now $1
Take It Away $1.50
LISTEN FOR YOURSELF:
Originally published on Epinions.com.