Lord Buffalo‘s sparse, dark, acoustic-led folk slinks about in the shadows of the Western imagination. It’s the sort of grim, foreboding sound that I’m accustomed to attributing to Appalachia, but Lord Buffalo is from Austin, TX. The band pulls off its vision with a convincing control of atmosphere and the blessing of a low, rough baritone voice to sell the sound of their self-titled EP.
The band puts all their musical efforts to great use in “Sycamore, Pt. 2 (Glass Hills),” where a slowly-pounded drum becomes menacing with repetition under a whirling, churning crescendo of sound. It’s the sound of a revenge Western film, right about the time that the hero decides he’s going to give in to his darker side and do the deed. Then highlight track “Cold Bones” would be the next scene, where he sets out to make the villain pay: the electric guitar pairs with a wailing violin, distant pad synths and more thumping drums to create a majestic, determined, traveling feeling.
But I could be jumping the gun on that one: the eerie fourth track is called “Pale Horse, Pale Rider” and talks about “You, the devil and me.” (It has rhythms that seem to mimic the pace of traveling by horse; or I could be importing that on there, but either way, the song works.) By the time “Face in the Grass” appears, a close listener should be downright worn out from all the activity. And, so kindly, Lord Buffalo obliges with a quiet, weary, almost-reverent tune to close out the set. (How it feels when revenge is done, but isn’t really satisfying, perhaps?)
It’s a downright powerful set, spanning a wide range of emotions. I’m positively thrilled by this EP, and I look forward to what Lord Buffalo has to offer us next. Highly recommended.
I’m heading back to hipster Christmas SXSW this year, freelancing for the Oklahoma Gazette with talented chap Matt Carney. I’m scouring through the announced bands so that I’m ready when it comes time to suit up make my schedule. Here’s some A’s and B’s that I hope to check out in Austin:
The Black and White Years play indie-rock with electro influences, but it’s their insightful lyrics that really hooked me. Okay, and the melodies.
The Barr Brothers. Josh Ritter’s gravitas + The Low Anthem’s transcendent beauty + Avett Brothers’ brotheriness. This is solid folk gold, people.
Adam and the Amethysts. Gleeful folky/calypso/whatevery goodness. Givers and Lord Huron should be all up on them as tourmates.
The American Secrets. You know this band as the FreeCreditScore.com Band. But did you know that all five are long-time indie-rock vets? And one of the members is in Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.? And that they write pretty brilliant songs when not composing ditties for commercials?
There will be oh so many more to come. I hope to post these weekly until SXSW.
Anathallo had a profound impact on my understanding of what indie rock should sound like. The early years of the band featured highly orchestrated arrangements, melodies that were catchy as much due to their complex rhythm as hummable qualities and surprising songwriting turns. Indie rock has moved away from this sound, but I have not. I’ll still up any band that gives me unexpected songwriting moves.
The Hague is on my good list in that regard. The band’s songs are nothing if not unpredictable. Whether ratcheting up to a crushing rush of guitar or dropping down to group vocals and tapped cymbal, the band plays with the ideas of how pop songs should work. To wit: those two parts I noted happen next to each other in “I’m Sorry.”
What sets The Hague apart from the pack and into Anathallo-excellent territory is patience in letting things unfold and excellent guitar work. All three tracks on the Stark House EP feature quick-paced, distinctive guitar runs that sound wonderful. They’re more prominent on “Valkyrie” and “I’m Sorry” than “California Curse,” but the goodness is present throughout. There are strings in and out of each piece. The tunes rock as well as quirk. That’s just awesome.
This type of indie-rock is embedded in my mind as Chicago-style, even if it’s not true. This is because of the way I view Chicago: less cut-throat than New York, less image-conscious than LA, less hip than Austin, less socially conscious than Portland, less jaded than Seattle. The Chicago of my mind is a place where smart guys have day jobs and also play rock shows of unusual music that they wrote in the basement with their friends. Someone played french horn/violin/other, because he had the instrument and he wanted to.
(Chicagoans are shaking their heads. Whatever. I’ve been to your city. It’s awesome. Let me compliment your hometown with half-truths if I feel like it.)
And that’s how I view The Hague (who were until recently tagged with the ironic moniker “And Then I Was Like, What?”, which only strengthens my opinion): A bunch of guys just doing their thing, even though they are in fact from Portland. And their thing (currently, the Stark House EP) is great. Check them out if you miss Anathallo or indie rock circa 2005 in general.
Built by Snow, a band hailing from Austin, Texas, describes their music as “catchy keyboard indie pop rock with an explosion of velcro melodies and magnetic hooks that hit your brain like an Atari blasting out of a bazooka.”
“Whoa,” I hear you readers say. “That band sounds like they would be fun to see live.”
Luckily for you, said group Built by Snow is on tour this June and they will be playing in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Monday June 15 at Soundpony Bar at 10 p.m.
This particular show is especially exciting for band member Matt Murray, who grew up around Tulsa.
“This will be my first show back in my hometown!” Murray said.
The four-piece Built by Snow is currently working their way up to the NXNE Music Festival in Canada, playing shows on the trip there and back. This is their first big tour, although they have played out-of-state gigs.
“We’re gonna be covering a really long distance compared to anything we’ve done before. It’s exciting!” said band member JP Pfertner.
The group also recently released a new album called MEGA in January.
“It’s kind of like plugging your brain into an 8-bit Nintendo. Then plugging guitars, vocals, and rock and roll in at the same time,” Pfertner said of MEGA.
Concert attendees can expect a very high-energy, fun performance, with lots of instrument-swapping between songs.
“We move around and sweat quite a bit. Sometimes we might look clumsy on stage when we’re all jumping around, but it’s all under control… sort of,” Pfertner said.
The group met one another at a local Austin TV station where they all work, and have been playing music together for about 3 years. But music was a major part of their lives even before Built by Snow.
Pfertner said that music runs in his family.
“My uncle even invented an instrument called ‘the hamatar.’ It’s crazy – two guitar necks stuck together pointing opposite directions. It allows one person to play two guitars at the same time. It was 80’s excess at its best,” Pfertner said.
Murray does not have quite the same familial claim to fame as “the hamatar,” but said that he also became interested in music at a young age. Murray began taking piano lessons at 11, only to quit, fall in love with guitar, and then get back into keyboard again.
Tulsa residents, check out Built by Snow this Monday at Soundpony Bar next to Cain’s Ballroom. The complete Built by Snow tour schedule is available on their myspace.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.