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Band of Holy Joy - How to Kill a Butterfly (Exotic Pylon)

BOHJ album art
1 October 2011

Apparently one of the prerequisites for living a happy fruitful life is to ensure that each day you remind yourself of the ultimate fragility of life, I think they used to call it, “seizing the day”… Much the same effect can be achieved by exposure to the rather brilliant new Band of Holy Joy album, How to Kill a Butterfly.

It’s easy to forget now that much great music was made as a result of artists having a burning need to communicate something, that is something other than the desire to further their careers, if ever there was a band with such an absolute burning need then it’s the Band of Holy Joy.

The message I take from How to Kill a Butterfly is essentially, “wake up, take a deep breath and appreciate this life for all you’re worth.” I’m sure all would agree that’s always a worthwhile message. Of course this is a Band of Holy Joy record so appreciating life means embracing the beauty and the ugliness, because you can’t have one without the other.

I hesitate to mention any Holy Joy history because although this is recognisably a BOHJ album it never feels like a band with a 27 year (on and off) legacy. This is the here and now and the current line up is joyously alive and inventive.

Go Break the Ice leads us in holding back before Chris Brierley’s swirling vioin and Bill Lewington’s heartbeat drumming take flight, subtle electronics shading in the ending, before we drop down into a stately, fuller take on the majesterial Oh What a Thing This Heart of Man.

From there it’s a ten song trip where variety and a wide spectrum of emotions ensure you end up listening from beginning to end whether you meant to or not.

These Men Underground dips from lows to highs, Andy Astle’s guitar driving the exultant finale while Between a Nightingale’s Song and Now uses a flamenco feel to heighten the carnal ecstacy within. At the midway point Sadness Ignorance and Longing is a beautifully doleful instrumental well placed as a pause before the second act.

And what a second act; the stunning Observer’s Book of Bird’s Eggs is like nothing you’ll hear this year, as Johny accurately evokes the eyes wide, tender passion of childhood obsession. But then the same uniqueness applies to The Repentant, a disturbing tale of indulgence leading to decay and disgust but with a resolution featuring maybe a key message underpinning Johny’s compassionate anarchy. After decrying the waste of modern society, realising that despite our best efforts to destroy it, the world can probably survive perfectly well without us, the realisation comes that, in the end, “What matters to me is surely, how we treat each other.”

But then just maybe the best is saved until last.

A Clear Night, A Shooting Star, A Song for Boo, is stop you in your tracks stunning. Beginning with Johny’s exhortation to turn off all electrical devices, we end with a population out in the fields, lying in the grass or out in the street prostrate on the tarmac, gazing up at the sky listening to the silence and reclaiming some bit of battered humanity, remembering what it means to be alive, before the inevitable crash back down to earth.

As Johny concludes, “What a compelling thing this life is…” in How to Kill a Butterfly The Band of Holy Joy have made music to match.


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