VBS_AMillionWays_ArtworkEver since Rob Jones, under the moniker of his primary creative outlet The Voluntary Butler Scheme, released his 2009 début ‘At Breakfast, Dinner And Tea’, the market for quirky, catchy one-man-bands has been pretty much cornered. Demonstrating what would become the multi-instrumentalist’s typical eye for detail and knack for a catchy brass hook, ‘At Breakfast…’ set the precedent for a string of collaborations – most notably with the fantastic Sweet Baboo – that would see Jones tour and write extensively.

Two records on and we have ‘A Million Ways To Make Gold’, the third album produced as VBS. Described by Jones himself as the record where he sought to increase his creative use of brass instrumentation, the LP presents the listener with a collection of songs which aim to introduce a larger, more orchestral element to VBS’ typical brand of upbeat, cheerful pop. Despite the promise of extensive use of brass – Jones taught himself trumpet and saxophone for this record – album opener ‘The Q Word’ is distinctly electronic, bringing to mind its predecessor ‘The Grandad Galaxy’. It is only when the three minute mark is passed that the trumpets kick in, reinforcing the catchy, repetitive vocals in making elements of VBS’ first record immediately recognizable in this later work. Although ‘A Million Ways…’ is clearly reminiscent of the journey into electronic experimentation that was started in the previous album, the uplifting aesthetic that characterized its creator at the beginnings of his career is still present in a major way.

It is this variety within songs – a combination of the old and the new Rob Jones – that is perhaps the most striking element to this record. ‘The Q Word’ is followed by the shuffling, muted ‘Looking For Nearby Water’, almost jazzy in its rhythm section and led by staccato, clean guitar work, in which the brass does not appear until the end. Album highlight ‘Honey In The Gravel Mixture’ features lyrics that display Jones’ interest in using commonplace objects to create profound and obscure metaphors, whilst the song’s main riff makes clear the fact that VBS is as capable of producing a hook as catchy and uplifting as he ever was. The album’s closer, the title track, hints at the beginnings of an alternative side to Rob Jones’ music, replacing the normally clear, prominent mixing of the vocals with something far woozier. It brings the record to a pleasantly sleepy ending, somewhat suitable after the energy of the songs that came beforehand.

Despite these positives however, there is something about ‘A Million Ways To Make Gold’ that means it lacks the charm of VBS’ previous work. The incredibly clean production at times strips away some of the lo-fi allure that music like this ought to possess. Furthermore, the aforementioned variety that is so prevalent within the album features only really within each song, rather than across the album. The end result of this is a collection of songs which all include every element of Jones’ sound, yet never seem to deviate too far from the general structure and style of their respective predecessors. This means that towards the end of the record it can feel a little tired – the twee metaphors and rousing brass feeling slightly overused. Despite some obvious deviations, Rob Jones is a man bound by his own distinctive sound, and it is in ‘A Million Ways To Make Gold’ that this trademark quirk begins to get repetitive.

A Million Ways To Make Gold’ is in no way a bad album. Rob Jones demonstrates an ability to craft music that embodies the progress and skill exhibited in all of his earlier work. Once again he proves his worth as a writer of the most uplifting and lyrically amusing work. The key issue with this record is the fact that it feels like – rather than progress much further – The Voluntary Butler Scheme has rested on its laurels and produced an album that feels a little like a ‘best of’ rather than exciting, new material. Perhaps the interesting new direction displayed in the albums closer hints at greater things to come.

6 out of 11

Release Date 24/03/2014 (SPLIT)

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Lloyd Bent

Manchester born radio-dabbler who burrows away under record and book collections whenever possible. Has interest in an eclectic variety of music, perhaps most significantly funk, post-punk and the more underground indie. Harbors ambitions to be a full-time writer, currently studies at Uni, works as a radio DJ and runs Indie DJ nights in the bars every now and again. Plays and attends gigs all over the place, but preferably in Manchester where independent venues are both commonly found and reliably fantastic.