A time of wanting but not really knowing…

My lapsed blogger status seems to have become a reality, it would seem. My new role keeping me at “off my tits” busy level. As such I didn’t find opportunity to do a “Best of” “Looking Back at” post for the last year and now that we’re almost nearing the end of January Part 2 it would be pretty pointless.

But there is one album I want to talk about and it kind of bridges a gap between best last year, this year and 1992. I’ll explain…

There were some great re-releases last year. A lot of hype went to Thommy and his  mates’ magnum opus but one of my favourites flew a little under the radar: Buffalo Tom’s  Let Me Come Over – 25th Anniversary Edition. I’ve written of BT before so won’t go too deep on the history of (one of, at least) Boston’s finest but Let Me Come Over was a breakthrough for them in terms of songwriting, contained some of their best songs and – with Tailllights Fade – almost saw them crack through into the mainstream.

Last year’s re-release didn’t add a great deal – there’s no exhaustive combing of the vaults for versions where the guitar was tuned slightly differently or the inclusion of b-sides. Instead there’s a fantastic 17 song live set on the second disc (well, 10 on the vinyl with the full lot on the digital) that sees the three-piece add more power and guitar tone to album (and career) highlights in concert up at the University of London’s student union.

Already one of my favorite albums, the reissued Let Me Come Over got a lot of plays last year, and would usually be the one album I point to as their career-best. But… but BUT: then along comes something new.

In a couple of weeks Buffalo Tom will drop Quiet and Peace. However, as an early backer on Pledge Music, I’ve been able to have this album playing in my car since December and I don’t think a week has gone by where I haven’t listened to it at least once.

I don’t think – judging by the press reviews that are starting to appear – I’m alone in saying that, 25 years after their previous such effort, Buffalo Tom have made another career highlight in Quiet and Peace.

It’s both rousing and reflective, channeling the maturity and seriousness that set them aside from other college rock bands in the early 90s, into a beautifully warm, almost autumnal feel. Sample lyric: “Now my time behind is greater than my time ahead” from ‘All Be Gone’.

When I first go into Buffalo Tom it was on the back of 2000’s Asides From compilation that marked the commencement of a hiatus for the band. It would be seven years until they got it back together. Quiet and Peace is the third album since they reconvened and, not to bag on Three Easy Peices or Skins, it’s easily the best they’ve done since and easily has had more plays than some of their latter post-hiatus records too. There’s a cohesiveness to it (perhaps down to mixing from John Agnello  – Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth, The Hold Steady.. and Buffalo Tom – or Dave Minehan’s production) and the songs sound just that little bit more well-brewed. Or maybe it was just an alignment in the cosmos or something, who knows how it happens but the ten new songs on Quiet and Peace – and the closing over of ‘Only Living Boy In New York City – make for one of Buffalo Tom’s finest collections to date, their new best record released just after celebrating the birthday of their previous one.

There’s precious little I can share in terms of songs or videos from it at the moment but keep an eye out for it in early March – Quiet and Peace is a belter of an album.

 

Great Compilations: Asides from Buffalo Tom

Not too long ago – when explaining the need for self-compiling cds/playlists for those artists who already had a compilation out in the world, I mentioned that compilations are strange thing. That you’re never going to please everybody with a selection (in the linear notes for The Essential, Bruce Springsteen suggests that “one man’s NYC Serenade is another man’s Rosalita”*) and that my choice of what I’d consider essential listening very rarely coincides completely with the ‘official’ compiler’s (usually because they’re doing so with a specific, marketing-dictated aim  rather than just cherry picking).

There are some compilations, though, that are as close to perfect and essential as you can get. They do that rare thing of providing as solid, all-encompassing an overview as is possible in a dozen or so tracks in a manner that will provide a great entry-point for the uninitiated and give the already-converted a good career-spanner to listen to when they don’t feel like going through whole-albums. A good track-listing can also allow tracks to breath a little differently, have a better light shone on them than when otherwise buried on an album (see Long Time Comin’ on Springsteen’s Chapter and Verse – of which more to come later).

img_0628So I thought I’d kick this possible-series off with one of my favourite compilations, one that’s been keeping me steady company for a good sixteen years now; Asides from Buffalo Tom.

Now when it comes to recalling bands from Boston, I imagine those that get mentioned would include Aerosmith, The Cars, The J. Giels Band, Pixies, possibly even Dropkick Muphys and, of course Boston. I don’t know how many would pull up the trio of Buffalo Tom but, save for a bit of a break between 2000-2007, they’ve been a stalwart of indie-rock since their first album, the J Mascis produced self-titled effort, dropped in 1988.

After shifting song-writing gears for the 90’s, they became a pretty popular alt-rock band and yet, while Big Red Letter Day even managed to crack the top 20 over here, they never achieved the popularity their songs and music deserved. It is mind-boggling to me, and I’m sure others, that bands like The Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox 20 got gargantuan levels of exposure while how-did-they-miss singles like “Taillights Fade” and “Mineral” remain songs I have to enthuse to people about as they’ve never heard ’em.

2011_buffalo-tom_tour_dates_13035883982475Of Buffalo Tom, I’ve read of them being described as “like a bar band fronted by an anxiously melancholic whiskey-fueled Alex Chilton” while even the too-cool-for-this Pitchfork said of them: “solo-ridden guitar-god aspirants Buffalo Tom: 1) named themselves after their drummer and Neil Young’s first band because it’d have been too much trouble to come up with anything really new; 2) played assorted variations on the strummy post-pop that filled collegiate airwaves throughout the 1980s because innovation is overrated; and 3) wrote sharply observed conversational lyrics because it was too hard to be obscure.”

This album came into my hands upon day of release thanks to my hearing “Taillights.. ” on a magazine sampler and seeing (just one of so many) highly-starred reviews against this comp. Having since gone back and accumulated the band’s discography, it’s still Asides From that gets the most plays (I’m genuinely surprised the disc hasn’t given out, the case certainly has). It contains the perfect selection of their finest from the 11-year period represented and the non-chronological sequencing makes this feel more like an album of absolute all-killer-no-filler than a compilation-by-rote. Early-cut “Birdbrain”, for example, is daft but is so full of hook as to be a barn-stormer and here rubs shoulders with the more bluesy-throat of “I’m Allowed”.

What such a track-listing also highlights is that, despite their lack of mainstream or commercial breakthrough, Buffalo Tom remained staggeringly consistent in terms of quality – album closer (and then final single) “Wiser” is one of their finest moments but here sits among plenty of equals – and remained ready and willing to bring it to every session.

While it isn’t going to break any new ground or make anyone wonder “how are they doing that?”, Asides From Buffalo Tom contains 18 very strong songs (even their cover of The Jams’ “Going Underground” is worth a listen) – in a way the fact that I’ve still yet to bump into anyone who shares this knowledge makes em feel just that little more ‘mine’. Still, I’m sharing it here and recommend – given how little it’ll cost – it to all.

After the release of Asides in 2000 (and the quickly-following Besides..), Buffalo Tom took a bit of a break – singer Bill Janovitz dropped another solo album, took up real estate, wrote a couple of books on The Rolling Stones – before getting back together and releasing Three Easy Pieces (2007) and Skins (2011). Both reveal the band remain consistently capable of a great tune and contain tracks that could easily sit alongside those on this best of – particularly You’ll Never Catch Him, Down and Don’t Forget Me (which features co-vocals from Tanya Donelly of another Boston band, Belly). There’s hints/rumour/suggestion of new Buffalo Tom music on the way and it’s something that I’m eagerly anticipating – a now long-term love for a band kicked of and continually fuelled by this compilation.

 

*or another combination – it, like all of my music collection, is currently sealed up in a box in the ‘spare’ room of my new house.

When the leaves burn, summer ends

Despite the record breaking temperatures we’re getting for this time of year, there’s an unmistakeable hint of autumn in the air.

It’s at this time of year that two songs which somehow (to my ears) manage to capture the sensation that summer has just slipped away come to mind and they’re both by the same guy – Bill Janovitz.

Summer is from Buffalo Tom’s fifth album Sleepy Eyed and they’d tried to move away from the polished sound of the previous album to something a little more live, in-the-studio feeling:

Best Route comes from Bill Janovitz’ most recent solo outing – a somewhat concept album about his hometown which had “got trapped in amber of nostalgia” . Whether it’s the timing signature, that electric guitar line, the undeniable warmth of that nostalgia when applied to the end of summer… I don’t know, but Best Route is the stand-out for me.

Tracks: Taillights Fade

scan0151October 2000 and I’m a relatively regular reader of Uncut Magazine, scouring their Unconditionally Guaranteed CD each month for the one or two tracks that will make me sit up and pay attention as is usually the way with such free, on-the-cover comps. There’s only one track on this one, though but I fell in love with it and promptly ordered the album it was pulled from. It was Taillights Fade by Buffalo Tom.

A three-piece from Boston, Buffalo Tom got going in the mid-eighties. Their first two albums were produced by (and featured the odd guitar line from)Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis. It’s safe to say they got a second-go-around following the surge in interest in ‘alt-rock’ in the early nineties and their third album Let Me Come Over not only marked an increase in popularity but a change in sound; less fuzz, sharper lyrics, a clearer sound and melodies you could hang your hat on. In the nineties they crafted hugely powerful, deftly-written songs, each subsequent album containing a strong blend of crunching rockers and delicate acoustics with soulful and intelligent lyrics sewn into songs that make you wonder how the hell they weren’t huge singles.

Taillights Fade is taken from that big-leap-forward third album.

From the sound of the hand slipping up the neck I was hooked. From a gentle strum behind the lead figure to a fuller throttle thump, this song builds and builds, adding more with every listen.  It’s a lovelorn song with one hell of a tune. In fact everything about this song – from the music to the lyrics to the mix is spot-fucking-on.

$_57

Sister, can you hear me now
The ringing in your ears
I’m down on the ground
My luck’s been dry for years

I’m lost in the dark
And I feel like a dinosaur
Broken face and broken hands
I’m a broken man

I’ve hit the wall, I’m about to fall
But I’m closing in on it
I feel so weak on a losing streak
Watch my taillights fade to black

Sadly – at least for seven years until returning with Three Easy Pieces – by the time I got my ears wrapped around this,  they were done as a band. Typical timing on my behalf but it meant I was able to go on and complete the back catalogue. While this song opened doors into their cannon for me, Asides From is almost certainly the most played album within my collection and one I whole heartedly recommend getting hold of as a starting point.

Enjoy, again: