Despite hailing from the Pacific Northwest, Portland's Dead Reckoning is essentially an album that translates the Southern Gothic into sound. Acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo, drums, organ, melodica, and bass pound out a percussive take on old time Americana, while vocalist Ryan Sollee delivers story-after-benighted-story in a Collin Meloy-esque croak-croon. And that's the real key to The Builders and the Butchers' appeal: the musical storytelling. Listening to Dead Reckoning is like having a front-row seat to a dustbowl tent revival, a front-porch family recitation, and the kind of murder ballad yarns that get told in the back rooms of rough taverns.
The album's lyrical fixation on fathers and sons, the untamed sea, religion, addiction, and radical evil and radical good underline and re-imagine a particularly apocalyptic moment in the American experience of the early twentieth century. The album's title refers to an old method of sea navigation that is used to chart both past position and current trajectory. I can't help but think that The Builders and the Butchers are drawing a potent musical comparison between our current age and a similarly-troubled moment in the past with this album; as much as we like to distance ourselves from the hardships we assign to an antiquated age—all in the name of progress—perhaps the horrors given vent in songs such as “Rotten to the Core,” “Lullaby,” and “Black Elevator” speak more to a new depression on the horizon.