Monday, December 15, 2014

The Voluntary Butler Scheme - A Million Ways To Make Gold (2014)

When UK multi-instrumentalist/producer Rob Jones first started making music under the moniker The Voluntary Butler Scheme he had just come off a stint as the drummer for retro pop outfit The School to the point that his continued dalliance with the genre on debut album At Breakfast, Dinner, Tea seemed almost a given. And yet even while using music from bygone eras as a guide no one could deny that Jones brought a sense of originality to the table - expanding the sound with an impressive lushness and imbuing in them a delightfully ear-catching nature without the risk of a saccharine turn.

However it wasn't until his sophomore record The Grandad Galaxy when Jones opened up his precise, layered compositions to show the nuts and bolts of the operation in a much less easily digestible fashion that the real scope of Jones' musicianship could be gleaned. While bringing in outside parties to play the instruments he could not (namely and exclusive brass), it's the record that most solidified Jones' one-man band status to those that could not see the man in action.  Jones experimented not only with the 60's/70s styles he obviously still drew inspiration from but also the multitude of electronics Jones relies on in bringing his vibrant seamless pop songs to life.

So it makes a sort of logical sense that on A Million Ways To Make Gold, Jones' third album as The Voluntary Butler Scheme, that he'd marry the ideas behind his two previous albums together. Album opener "The Q Word" is Jones' longest track to date is perhaps the most apt introduction to the album as repetitive high pitched beeps give way to synthetic keyboard melodies that despite their smoothness are punchily inorganic that's almost completely odds with Jones' vocals. But as the track progresses the rough-hewn edges round out as they're subbed out for more man-made sounds like bass and brass. In "The Q Word", Jones segues from one album to the next, centering the new release on the more human elements he wants to focus on.

In a sense The Voluntary Scheme has always been about the balance between inspiration and experimentation but A Million Ways To Make Gold finds Jones at his most centered able to create his most catchy pop tunes while not totally shelving his desire for pop experimentation. A Million Ways To Make Gold works as brilliant return to form for The Voluntary Butler Scheme. While Jones' continues his to expand his both his textural and timbral palette, the best songs on the album happen when Jones allows himself to revel to in the funky grooves that gave At Breakfast, Dinner, Tea much of its momentum. But Jones also takes what worked so well on The Grandad Galaxy and refines it to work not only on a smaller scale but in tandem with his more nostalgic tendencies throwing his more adventurous efforts right into the mix.

Far less electronic than the previous album, A Million Ways To Make Gold obscures a bit of the Rob Jones' song construction in favor of these moments of rapid, pop metamorphism. It's a veritable smorgasbord of genres - from the doo-wop/gospel-flavor of "Believe" to the old school rhythm and blues of "So Tired (So Tired)", Jones manages to run through them without making a big show of it. The unsung quality of The Voluntary Butler Scheme has always been Jones' inventive lyricism from
his clever turns of phrases to his beguiling metaphors, and that's no different here. Ultimately A Million Ways To Make Gold is a treat for Voluntary Butler Scheme fans old and new, building on an rich established history while remaining an easily accessible and delightfully engaging album.

The Voluntary Butler Scheme's third album A Million Ways To Make Gold is out now on Split Records.

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