“Spanish Death Song” by The Builders and the Butchers

I’ve been on a bluegrass kick lately, so the likes of Sarah Jarosz, Alela Diane, and Holly Golightly have been rather exhausted on the Empanada as of late. (My definition of bluegrass — or country for that matter — obviously leans more toward the rock side of the spectrum than the O Brother Where Art Thou side, just to let you know.) Which sort of brings us to the song selection of the evening: The Builders and the Butchers.

I saw them open for Amanda Fucking Palmer (of The Dresden Dolls fame) and immediately went out and bought their debut album of the same name after their set. I cannot quite tell you how quickly the leader singer/guitarist was strumming his guitar, but I was shocked that his fingers didn’t fall off, his strings didn’t break, and his acoustic didn’t burst into flames. Now, I wouldn’t normally describe bluegrassy, rockabilly, lo-fi music as intense, but The Builders and Butchers are just that.

The “Spanish Death Song” is the first off of their album and chosen because I couldn’t find any non-live versions on youtube. Though if you ever do get the chance to see them live, do it, because it’s spectacular. My favorite song is their “Bottom of the Lake” because it brings to mind Faustian pacts (which, to be honest, a lot of things do) and mobsters (which only vaguely make an appearance in my psyche).

It came across the land
Like the Spanish Influenza*
We were brought down to our knees
And we sat amongst the cracks
Where the pennies all were rolling
Falling down a rich man’s sleeve

One of the things I love about this band is their sense of mood and imagery. This song has pennies — which Ancient Greeks would place coins on the eyes of the dead so they could pay Charon to cross Styx, or see: Boondock Saints — cracks reminiscent of fault lines, and bells tolling. Others have red hands, white dresses, stone feet, and running rivers. All of these hold rich symbolism and just steep the album in a dreary, catastrophic timbre. Rarely does an album have such cohesion that an aura comes through the music so vibrantly, but every time I listen to it, I feel as if I could be working in some coal mines back in the late 1800s, hacking up a lung. Which is to say, I love it.

I often have reoccurring images in my own writing — frogs, skeletons, the Macbethian theme of incarnadine seas, David Lynchian flashbacks, and Raskolnikovian orientation of characters — so it’s interesting to see this reflected in another art form.

Not to mention that every time he sings the line “bringing out the dead,” I think of Monty Python.

*Well, I mean something has to relate the Spanish Influenza and vampires together other than Twilight and I plan to be that thing. Just as I plan to relate the Bush song “Mouth” to werewolves so it won’t always be associated with the ghastly An American Werewolf in Paris.


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