Blunt Chunks Transcends Cliché on The Butterfly Myth

The Toronto singer-songwriter’s debut LP weaves a compelling story through expertly layered indie twang.

Music Reviews Blunt Chunks
Blunt Chunks Transcends Cliché on The Butterfly Myth

The butterfly—papillon in French, schmetterling in German—is a creature so beguiling that tall tales naturally emanate from its glowing wings. It can get daunting to encounter yet another work of art that engages with the butterfly as a symbol of transformation. Yet on The Butterfly Myth, Caitlin Woelfle-O’Brien’s first full-length as Blunt Chunks, she toys with butterfly imagery at the cellular level: When caterpillars approach the inflection point of metamorphosis, their body instinctually resists the initial transformation of caterpillar cells to butterfly cells, treating them like a foreign entity and placing the life form at risk. It’s this uglier, less-linear story that Woelfle-O’Brien latched onto when writing the songs that would become The Butterfly Myth. That distinct approach is almost as refreshing as the music she and her collaborators produce. Across nine tracks, The Butterfly Myth is an arresting dream-folk album, duly ornamented while Woelfle-O’Brien’s voice leads the charge—adding some much-needed pizzazz to the at-times tired contemporary canon of soft, twangy rock.

The Butterfly Myth is rich in texture, not in the least because of the distinct instrumental choices deployed to support Woelfle-O’Brien’s levitating voice. Opener “Fill My Cup” starts with slow, weighty drumming, liberal tambourine usage and a little fuzzy guitar before fading away as Woelfle-O’Brien sings over a bed of keys and steel—adding just the right balance of punctuation and flourish needed to uplift her voice. Living somewhere between the softness of Sampha’s voice and the breadth of Aerial East’s, Woelfle-O’Brien’s voice suits the pensive soft rank lane that Blunt Chunks inhabits. Bolstered with layers at key moments and backup from singer Quinn Bates, the vocals breathe incredible emotion into heartfelt yet plain spoken lyrics. Feelings of anticipation, devotion, avoidance, despondence are all there, delivered with nuanced tricks of affectation and instrumentation that signal distinction but proximity. She cannot escape feeling all these in one body; neither can her listener.

On a dime, Woelfle-O’Brien embraces progress after wilting in passivity on the propulsive “Psyche’s Flight.” While the drums and saxophone move with a gusto, she sounds reticent. A specter of doubt hangs over the song, granting it a postmodern interiority that stands out among other pep-talk indie hits. That doubt manifests in the mood cycle found on “High Hopes.” Blunt Chunks’ representation of gradual, mounting tension and soulful releases that come from navigating loaded communiques are striking: We’re used to hearing Woelfle-O’Brien’s vocals drift plaintively; it’s on “High Hopes” where we’re introduced to the singer who can throw her voice like an axe, slicing through the soft veneer of tambourine and pedal steel: “I realize that it’s senseless, you didn’t even ask about my day / In the morning I was lovin’ you, now I’m just angry.”

Instead of tension and release like on “High Hopes,” “Limbo” hoards that tension over time as Woelfle-O’Brien repeats “I don’t wanna do this anymore” more convincingly every time. J Valerione’s backing vocals give her declaration more verisimilitude. That turns on its head on “Everyday,” a moment where she seems to “do this” again despite better judgment: “Your hands your hair your eyes your skin / I’m alive / Your laugh your voice your cries you win / I could die.” The pedal steel, gentle guitar and vocal layers feel so romantic despite the danger of being let down. “Breathe” feels like the ultimate externalization of a desire to get out, delivered with a smoothness underscored by clarinet and saxophone. Woelfle-O’Brien says her piece with a steady intensity until the backing band falls away, giving way to a definitive silence.

A song as slow and measured as “Higher” risks being lost in the shuffle—especially with its late placement—but over those six minutes, Woelfle-O’Brien sings with transfixing sincerity while the synths, bass and saxophone add just the right flourishes to the drumbeat. It’s a stark portrait of a young woman reckoning with the man who she, at her core, craves despite his unrepentant selfishness. It feels like a drawn-out girl group song, as if Motown’s finest were slowed to be sluggishly wistful instead of snappy, and the resulting dream pop affect feels lonely.

“Can’t Be The End” is the closer that doesn’t close. Woelfle-O’Brien, flanked by Valerione and Bates, sings with equal parts control and desperation to hold onto what she has, not to move on, but something is pulling her towards her uncertain future. She restates: “I don’t wanna put you down, now / Just to feel better / But I need some relief / From all this bad weather”; she cowers: “Don’t tell me this is the end / No no this can’t be the end.” And so, much like a Looney Tunes installment, The Butterfly Myth ends on “the end,” as much as the album’s protagonist wishes to wallow in her current predicament, one where she doesn’t have to confront what it will take to move on. The end is coming whether or not Blunt Chunks is prepared, much as butterfly cells eventually win the battle and speed metamorphosis along.

For an album that traffics in softness and mythology as well-tread as that of the butterfly, Blunt Chunks’ debut avoids the pitfalls that could send the music careening towards cliche. It’s diaristic, folksy indie done just right. Caitlin Woelfle-O’Brien and her band add a soulful sheen to the twangy backbone, presenting a more diverse palette than peers typically offer. The songs on The Butterfly Myth work in juxtaposition, doubt and dramatic turns that coagulate into a story where you’re invested in the outcome. It is not a “perfect” album but, for a debut album especially, it’s a feat. We can only hope to know what’s in store for the protagonist on the next Blunt Chunks release.

Devon Chodzin is a critic and urban planner with bylines at Aquarium Drunkard, Bandcamp Daily, Slumber Mag and more. He is currently a student in Philadelphia. He lives on Twitter @bigugly.

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