(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Recording review - Buffalo Killers, Fireball of Sulk (2014)

Who do Buffalo Killers they think they are?

On the one hand, it's good that Buffalo Killers are so full of ideas that they're compelled to drop a second release within the same year. It's a bonus for their fans and it generates a fresh round of attention. For the most part, reviewers have been kind, so it's paid off, but I can't help but feel let down. To be fair, these six songs aren't bad at all. Instead, the problem is that they're so disjoint. EPs are usually a grab bag, but Fireball of Sulk comes across as an insecure demo for a less competent band trying to find something that will stick.

On a full length album, Buffalo Killers might have been able to create enough context where the playlist could flow more smoothly, but Fireball of Sulk never finds a center. Despite the consistency of their guitar tone, bass grind, and laid back rhythms, they set up two cross currents that break up any momentum that might develop. In particular, the slogging classic metal sound of "Marshmallow Mouth" is optimally placed to break the EP's stride. Its closest sonic cousin on the album is the angst-free grunge of the opening track, "Blankets on the Sun", but rather than accentuating that connection, they crammed it in between a twangy bit of psychedelia ("Weird One") and a '70s style folk rock tune ("Something Else"). This gives it a jarring impact but doesn't serve any of the songs well. To further muddy the water, they double down on the country rock vibe with "Don't Cry to Me", whose choppy cut-time beat recalls Mike Nesmith and the Monkees novelty country work like "Your Auntie Grizelda".

Understand, neither the grunge nor the country rock sounds are objectionable; in fact there's plenty to like about each. Despite being the pitfall of the playlist, "Marshmallow Mouth" is probably my favorite track here. The headbanging snarl of bass and guitar sets up a trudging grind that sways through some two-chord changes to lay the perfect foundation for the flailing guitar solos. It's a thick morass of garage metal, but it's so easy to surrender to the inevitability of the rhythmic tide. The lyrics don't make a lot of sense beyond the accusatory tone of the vocals, but they avoid easy parody, unlike a lot other bands working the same vein.

By contrast, "Something Else" could have easily fit on 2012's Dig. Sow. Love. Grow., with the same unselfconscious retro aesthetic and vocal harmonies that would be at home in the James Gang. In contrast to "Marchmallow Mouth", the autobiographical feel of the lyrics offer a sincere sense of where the band is at. More importantly, Buffalo Killers show an intuition for flow that is missing from the larger picture. The verses settle into a solid wall of guitar, punctuated by the tom hits, but they throw in rhythmic breaks on the lines, "If this life's a game, then have I lost?/ Do I have to dance to pay the cost?" that match the questioning mood and disrupt the sing-song feel of the earlier lines. Later, they use a repeated guitar figure to build up momentum for the Joe Walsh style solo.

In a shuffled iTunes-driven world, it may not really matter. People can pick and choose what they like from Fireball of Sulk and be perfectly happy. For that matter, it's easy enough to jiggle the playlist for some improvement. I'd rather hold out for their next full-length, though, in hopes of a more coherent sense of the band.

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