Release date: 4 June 2021
Label: Stickman Records
Taking stoner riffs, doomy drum beats, and dark folk vocals, early King Buffalo made music to really relax to. If Jim Morrison sang for Black Sabbath instead of The Doors, King Buffalo is what that would sound like. Without the polish of a label, their three-track Demo (2013) still showed great promise. On their breakout album, Orion (2016), they refined their sound on a crystal clear recording. This took away from the traditionally fuzzy psychedelic elements but now complements vocalist Sean McVay well. McVay’s vocals and the tracks themselves are usually in the same pitch and BPM ranges, making them blend together. This is not a complaint as it successfully serves to add to the relaxing nature of their music.
Eager to get their name out, Rochester, New York-based King Buffalo have spent their time as an act recording four EPs, two albums, and still finding time to tour. As time progressed, their tracks got longer and their sound softened, to a folksy heavy psych rock. Fans of Long Distance Calling and All Them Witches may be especially interested. King Buffalo had high hopes on touring after releasing Dead Star last year, but the world had other plans. During lockdown, the band spent their time wisely, writing material for four albums. After cutting it down to three, King Buffalo now plan to release all three albums over the span of this year. The first of these three albums is The Burden of Restlessness.
Burning begins with a deep rumbling leading to a simple guitar riff over a complex and rolling bass supplied by Reynolds. Even the drums are somewhat quieter here, giving the bass nearly full focus. McVay’s practically spoken word vocals shift between those typical of post-influenced bands and something closer to nu metal. However, even the vocals are very minimal and the majority of this track is to enjoy the beat from Reynolds. Hebetation is much snappier than the previous, a tight drum guiding a droning psychedelic guitar. McVay’s lovely tones as he picks along the scale belie his morbid lyrical content. This track is downright catchy while not giving up any of the heavy sound and is a definite standout.
A mysterious and quick guitar riff opens Locusts, held up by a looming bass and drums that fill each of the spaces for notes left behind. For a moment, the track hints at breaking out into something heavier, snatches it back quickly, then finally releases it. You can almost feel the tension being released as the guitar is no longer confined, howling out over a more inqusitive bass. The vocals lead this track, a cue for when to change pace or melody. It’s clever and definitely draws closer attention to McVay’s voice. After this is the curious Silverfish, a short song with a somewhat disconcerting guitar riff over simple drums and bass. This track only gets heavy during the last third, sounding more like King Buffalo‘s usual stylings while keeping the original strange riff. While initially just a little odd, that riff eventually becomes a pleasant yet unsettling earworm.
A quick beat on bass and a few spread out notes from the guitar make a great foundation for Grifter, held together with McVay’s normal monotony. Just when it gets comfortable, the heavy psych bleeds out for a few seconds, just to tease. The wait isn’t long, though, as another verse from McVay leads back into that rough hum and buzz. It only seems to get harder the longer the song goes before finally ending at a satisfying conclusion. A few seconds into The Knocks, a couple guitar notes ring out that are highly reminiscent of Silverfish. These disappear, but leave behind a vague sense of dread. This track goes a few different places throughout, not quite sure where it is going. It never really lasts in one place long enough to establish itself until the end, making it a bit of a headscratcher.
The final track on the album, Loam, starts with an airy guitar that is soon met by an equally airy but considerably lower bass. McVay’s vocals meet somewhere in the middle to create a relaxing harmony. This is not so much broken as enhanced by the change to a heavier sound about halfway through. The mood here is terrific, majestic, and hypnotic. Like The Knocks, this tracks goes a lot of places, but it manages to connect them well. A story is being told in the instrumental second half through riffs and rhythm, and each change makes the story more interesting. Though already nearly eight minutes in length, a hungry listener may find themselves wanting more after the track’s abrupt end.
A Final Word
Right out the gate, King Buffalo were bound for greatness. Strangely soothing vocals and an unpredictable guitar really set the stage. Being so bass-focused gives them that extra edge, turning their melodies into grooves. It’s almost surprising to learn that only three people are in a band with that much sound behind them. The Burden of Restlessness is the latest in a series of great releases by these soon-to-be psych legends. Unlike other bands, if you like this one, two more albums will drop within this year, so get ready!
- Sean McVay (he/him) – Vocals, guitar
- Dan Reynolds (he/him) – Bass
- Scott Donaldson (he/him) – Drums
- The Knocks