I propose a new –cholia noun. Much like the state of depression (and, in the case of W. Basiski, gorgeous sadness) known as melancholia, the term bucholia needs to be coined. Also able to be spelled bucolia to evoke the root word better, the term shall describe the omnipresent state of pretending to live in the countryside and occasionally pretending to get a few sheep. While the buc(h)olia scene can be summed up as, “Rock with acoustic guitars and mellow vocals, usually punctuated with brushed snares and melodies harkening back to classic melodies and the pre-1980s,” the definition resides in the band’s inflection as much as their instrumentation (meaning Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, and so on qualify). The latest purveyor the style: Butcher Boy. Yes, they’ve been around since 1998 and warrant their own Wikipedia page, but with their third and latest LP, Helping Hands, it seems that the band wants to break into the real indie pop world the best way they can: continued use of poetry and mellowness. Ultimately, the destination is still some buttery sunset but now an artistic imperative seems to be behind the helm. Sadly, that helm is controlled by a slightly schizotyped captain.

Musically, it’s a mixed bag. Some of the tracks are so folk-slo-core that they laze by without an impression, and the remaining tracks switch between straightforward and memorable indie pop and less stellar jangle idioms. ‘Russian Dolls’ synthesizes the two to some degree of success, as does ‘Parliament Hill,’ carried primarily by a melody and chorus so simple and infectious that they demand to be remembered. That isn’t to say that the slower songs themselves are forgettable, they just mostly serve no real purpose other than to interrupt the flow. ‘J Is For Jamie’ and ‘T Is For Tommy’ both act as interludes (the former actually opens the disc), and only gum up the works by providing the most MOR music churned out by this band. Almost cliché, the opener comes off like a project using GarageBand loops to make a delicate folk song and the latter really only shows off the cellist’s ability to repeat the same figure for a minute straight. By 30 seconds in they are dull; by the averaged 1’30” length’s end the desire to continue is lessened that much more. Also clogging everything up is the title track, so obsessed with its own poetry-born lyrics that the music behind lines like, “And even though I’m not afraid/The day that you stop I’ll be glad/I’ll rest my head on my arms on your back” shows little real inspiration, coming off as a vehicle designed to simply fill out the song beyond a piano and a voice.

If any one issue with Helping Hands needs identification, it’s a constant onslaught of middling delivery. Emotional boundaries aside, each track could be completely and utterly gorgeous if not for a forced attempt at evocative output, a move that spoils the tenderness of songs like ‘Bluebells’ and turns the pseudo-country folk of ‘I Am The Butcher’ into a shit kicker for Glaswegian hoedowns. And while that second one may seem interesting, instead it sounds half tired of itself by the time an instrumental bridge capable of adding a new element even declares its intent. It’s somewhat akin to the concept of a psychological flow, but one so heavily coded that the linear processes have been diverted and, through that diversion, manipulated into some shape of nothingness where substance began. ‘Whistle And I’ll Come To You,’ for instance takes an obvious poem and attempts to work it into a musical flow to find the right musical setting to evoke the pain and fear implied, but instead it feels like a heavily treaded over hash of what a slow song should sound like. Never falling prey to derivation, Butcher Boy at least manage to make their own singular forms of self-coddling banalities.

So what to make of an affair muddled and marred by middling music? Given the pastoral setting evoked musically, perhaps those moments could be seen as a rainy season that gives way to the bloomed glory of spring’s flowers and summer’s abundant cornucopia. But as an allergy sufferer extraordinaire, I despise spring and see it as a blemish – but this isn’t an album forever bound to the absolutes of what it calls forth. Instead, Butcher Boy attempt to make music that appeals to all and instead make the sort of pop album that, say, High Llamas churn out on a bad day, or one with limited appeal to the possible scores of rabid –folk anything fans. Good intentions are made obvious, prior pains made clear, and a keen ear for poetry is well on the way to being fully developed. But until the time that everything hits the caliber of the book, the music retards development. Heartbreakingly underwhelming, Helping Hands needs a few itself.