REVIEW: KING BUFFALO – “Orion”
I had been looking forward to hearing the full-length debut from the Rochester power trio King Buffalo for a while before it showed up. The album, which is independently released by the band on August 5th, is comprised of eight tracks of warm, heady psychedelia, given to regular jams among the three members and an overwhelming natural flow. They work in a few stoner rock elements — the occasional catchy chorus or heavy riff section — but King Buffalo, who formed in 2013 stay true to the bright colors of the album art with rich, encompassing sounds, like the layered vocals of opening, title track or the reverb-laden explorations of the following “Monolith.”
The album inevitably falls under the heading “mostly instrumental” for its extended jam sections, but it’s worth noting that vocals come on with structure behind, making actual verses and choruses, in other words. King Buffalo don’t feel by any means tied to a formula, and drummer Scott Donaldson has his work cut out for him keeping the jams tied to the ground throughout the album. To his credit, he does, and even at these songs’ farthest out, there’s something for listeners to hold onto. It’s part of the overall balance that King Buffalo seem to have a natural hold of, between stoner rock, jam and psych. As “Monolith” gives way to “Sleeps on a Vine,” the transition is smooth enough to run your hand over. It’s so easy to get lost in the vibe of the album; you might miss the change from one song to the other.
There’s plenty of room for spaced-out jamming; guitarist Sean McVay, who is also a lead singer, and Donaldson tend to come back around for one last chorus and then a section that leads to some of heavy work. Were it not for the catchiness in the chorus of “Kerosene,” which follows, “Sleeps on a Vine” might be the highlight of the record, but the gradual build, apex and memorable push of “Kerosene” make it for this track to stand out. King Buffalo show they’re not afraid to really let loose and be heavy, but the band is more than aware of needing a balance in their sound. Along with the sweetness of the guitar tone and the engulfing heat of the low end, their achieving that balance stands as one of the best accomplishments King Buffalo offer here.
“Down From Sky” is an acoustic piece which feels like King Buffalo’s “Going to California.” It’s a cut much needed in the album’s flow which puts everything right in place. For the bigger part “Goliath” feels like a psychedelic noodling, until the cannonade of stoner riffs enters, ultimately raising the album’s heaviness on the next level. “Orion Subsiding” returns to a smokey, laid-back atmosphere, which builds slowly around the repetitive guitar line and almost hypnotic work of rhythm section and McVay on vocals.
Closing “Drinking From the River Rising” is a 10-minute jam showing a diverse work of the band that absolutely has a lot to give. King Buffalo seems to be of kindred musical spirit. These eight tracks take a lot of the weighted-jam ethic and work it into something familiar but distinctly the band’s own and I imagine that as they grow as players and as a unit, future experimentation’s will be even more individualized. One can only hope, however, that the trio doesn’t lose sight of what they’re able to achieve tonally here.
The fuzz runs deep, and if King Buffalo build on what they present on ‘Orion’ in the right way, they could easily be a bright spot in the next generation of heavy psychedelia. After looking forward to hearing their first album, I have even higher hopes for the next one.