If the Decemberists were a group of grizzled old prospectors whose songs warned of foreboding dangers in yonder hills, the result would sound like The Builders and the Butchers. The band’s second full-length release, Salvation Is a Deep Dark Well, is, thematically, a concept album from a concept band.
The band is devoted to the creation/destruction dichotomy, along with an American roots music aesthetic and punk attitude. Case in point: The album’s first song (and music video), “Golden and Green,” is based on Henry Darger, a reclusive janitor who collected trash and kept it in his one-room apartment in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. Shortly before Darger’s death, his landlord found in his apartment hundreds of beautiful drawings and paintings and a 1,500-page manuscript for a fantasy novel. His work received immediate acclaim, but he couldn’t enjoy it in his senility.
“Golden and Green” and “Short Way Home” stand out as the best and most varied songs here, while many of the album’s other songs lack individuality, employing similar driving beats and folk instrumentation with an almost exclusive use of minor keys. The result is at times imbalanced. The darkness that the band explores so well is best defined by the few times the band explores the light. While The Builders and the Butchers ably explore their thematic material, their expressive arc could be even more effective with less butcher and more builder.