Since 2006 — when Scott Butler, Landon Thompson and John Aldridge formed The Black & White Years — their sifter has been shaking beyond the status quo.
They’ve released two albums and one EP. Topped radio charts. Shifted directions. Nearly broken up. Added members. Won awards. And now, a mere seven years post, what’s left at the bottom of the sieve are the undeniably solid pieces of a band arriving at a capstone.
Strange Figurines, in stores now on Modern Outsider Records, is that stone. It is the unalloyed chunk that endured best and worst times, youthful decisions, egos, changes, collaborations and maturity, to become an album embodying not just style or substance. But a perfectly mixed cocktail of them both.
Discovered at SXSW in 2007 by Talking Heads’ and Modern Lovers’ Jerry Harrison, The Black & White Years debuted their first full-length, Harrison-produced record only a few months later. Following the success of their introductory LP, they fronted the national stages of CMJ Music Festival, Fun Fun Fun Fest and Austin City Limits Music Festival, not to mention the international rostrums of London’s Wireless Festival and Cannes’ MIDEM — where drummer Billy Potts climbed aboard. “Power to Change,” their uniquely mysterious pop anthem and first single, made waves on college radio, scoring them an armful of trophies at the 2009 Austin Music Awards.
Scott Butler is a songwriter. One who would prefer to do that above all else. He is an intellectual, a reader, a science fiction nut. Ergo, it’s safe to assume he’s also an introvert. But on stage, he comes alive. Singing, playing guitar, pounding keys. And dancing a moustache around a microphone in a confident Freddie Mercury-like staccatoed strut. His balance in it all? Landon Thompson. Quite literally, on stage, he lends his pitch for flawless harmony and expert licks on lead guitar. Then, there’s bassist, John. The cayenne to Scott and Landon’s pepper & salt. The kick he brings starts with his stage presence. Wild curly hair, bouncing as he stomps and jumps, a caged animal released upon first low and full note. Pulling John from far left to near center is the rooting cadence of Billy Potts. Billy is focused. His entire being is comprised of a series of creative beats. He is the group’s rhythmic foundation, the conduit of everyone’s hard wiring. Then, as if the deck wasn’t quite stacked enough, accidentally in walks the delicate and honest Adrienne. Wife to Scott, she is the picture of beautifully demure couched in a complete lack of pretentiousness. And when she opens her mouth, it’s hard to believe this wasn’t her trajectory all along. In fact, after 12 years together, Scott didn’t even know she could sing. But as the writer incessantly writes without pause for executional realties, he penned a track that begged for female vocals. Believing this one had promise, he switched into demo mode, enlisting the closest soprano he could find. So in the bathroom of Scott & Adrienne’s South Austin home, The Black & White Years’ secret weapon shyly stepped up to the mic. Once everyone picked jaws up from the floor it was unanimously decided: this is the new Black & White Years sound, forever more. Amen.
The word they kept coming back to in the making of Strange Figurines was “coherent.” And in the studio, they all worked ad nauseam, perfectly capturing every nuance of their personalities and delivering on such. So that, ultimately, what we are left with is not just a cornerstone, but a rare gem. One whose brilliance shines as it’s enjoyed top to bottom, over and over again.