CD Reviews: Mansions, Melvins, and Roaming Herds of Buffalo

Editor's note: These reviews ran in the Nov. 27 issue. However, in our haste to go stuff turkey down our turkey-holes, we failed to publish them online. A great victory for the printed word no doubt, but here they are in digital format.

Mansions, Doom Loop (out now, Clifton Motel Records, thisismansions.com) Though its Wikipedia discography boasts more than 15 projects, including EPs, collaborations, compilations, and splits, indie-rock duo Mansions has released only three official albums, most recently Doom Loop. With each release, Mansions has honed in on its sound, tightening a few things and doing away with others. Since its 2009 debut, New Best Friends, the duo of Christopher Browder and Robin Dove, originally from Louisville, Ky., has evolved from a relatively clean, straightforward indie-rock band to one with a bit of dirt under its nails. Browder, lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist, has never shied away from melodic choruses, and those on Doom Loop are no different. But the entirety of the album is coated in a thin layer of fuzz—not enough to turn everything into a garbled mess, but just enough to wash each song in a little grit. “La Dentista” boasts a sing-along-ready, slightly morbid chorus: “If you won’t talk about it/Then how could I find a way around it/To pull out all your teeth/But you’d still lie to me.” “The Economist” is full of hooks as well, and there’s a nice variety to Browder’s voice we haven’t heard before; whereas album opener “Climbers” features big, poppy vocals, “Flowers in My Teeth” finds Browder whisper-singing over thick guitar riffs. Bassist Dove doesn’t always sing, but when she does, she provides a nice contrast to Browder’s Ben Gibbard–like voice, especially on “Out for Blood,” “If You’re Leaving,” and “Last One.” Overall, Doom Loop seems like a step in a slightly new direction for Mansions, having renovated its indie-rock foundation with a layer of fuzzy pop.

Melvins, Tres Cabrones (out now, Ipecac Records, themelvins.net) If April’s Everybody Loves Sausages gave us a window into Melvins’ influences, the band’s most recent release finds it reconnecting with its past in a different way. The 12-song album (their 20-something-th studio release) sees Buzz Osborne, aka King Buzzo, and Dale Crover reunited with Mike Dillard, the original drummer. Crover, who replaced Dillard in 1984, takes up bass duties on this album, but, says Osborne, the lineup is “as close as we’re willing to get to the Melvins’ 1983 lineup.” In fact, a few of the tracks on Cabrones first appeared on the band’s EP Melvins 1983: “Walter’s Lips” and “Stick ‘Em Up Bitch.” Opener “Doctor Mule” begins with a riff that’s more heavy metal than sludge, though the following tracks, “City Dump” and “American Cow,” both retain the down-tuned, distorted, slow tempo and grumbling vocals more characteristic of the band’s earlier output. To that end, many of the songs don’t really end but just disintegrate under their own weight. “Dogs and Cattle Prods” (yes, there’s a livestock theme at work here) is the album’s most interesting track, a nine-minute epic in which Black Sabbath’s influence comes through strongly. Elsewhere, three bits of Americana—“Tie My Pecker to a Tree,” “99 Bottles of Beer,” and “In the Army Now”—are rendered as only the Melvins could. Thirty years on, Tres Cabrones shows that Aberdeen’s original punk rockers are as good as they ever were.

Roaming Herds of Buffalo, Alien Canyons (out now, self-released, roamingherdsofbuffalo.com) With its second record, Roaming Herds of Buffalo has delivered a fresh indie-pop statement that’s equal parts thought-provoking and sonically rewarding. On the whole, the music will inevitably draw comparisons to the school of indie rock (the Shins, the Fruit Bats, Ben Gibbard’s various vehicles), but the album itself actually sounds like it could be two different bands. The record’s first half is marked mostly by vast swathes of sparseness, which allow both the music and the listener breathing room to think and reflect. The large amount of reverb laid across the vocals, especially on the album opener “Wild Oats,” goes a long way to enhance this effect. Canyons’ second half is marked by more bombast—balls-out guitar solos and cacophonous background vocals; the shift is quite dramatic, but also a welcome change. “Neutrinos” is a guitar wah-inflected, overdriven, doo-wop mindbender, while “Glitter Mastodon” is catchy, galloping pop perfection with a grunge-era guitar solo that’s more fuzzed-out noise than an executed flurry of notes. Nothing is direct about Canyons; it’s all about the sonic imagery—and the journey, perhaps. Overstuffed with lyrics like “Fill a crater with expensive scotch/Tie on an extinction buzz” and “Explosions reach under chassis and tickle out trucks,” Canyons wants you to see with your ears, and the lyrics go a long way toward helping you visualize that strange landscape. Let it swallow you whole.

Soundgarden, Screaming Life/Fopp (out now, Sub Pop, soundgardenworld.com) The good news about Sub Pop’s reissue of Soundgarden’s first two releases, both EPs, is that they’re finally available as a package (digitally, on CD, and on vinyl to boot) after being out of print for ages. Jack Endino, who recorded Soundgarden’s debut Screaming Life in 1987 (and who went on to make records for just about every important grunge band of the era), remastered both. The bad news is that the collection isn’t very good, though there are shades of the loud rock powerhouse Soundgarden would eventually become: Chris Cornell’s wailing vocals, Kim Thayil’s psychedelic guitar riffs, and the thick bottom-end groove of drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Hiro Yamamoto. “Nothing to Say” is closest to classic Soundgarden, with its monster Sabbath-inspired riff and dropped-D tuning. “Little Joe,” on the other hand, is as close to rapping as Chris Cornell has ever come, and features a head-scratching Chili Peppers–meets–Iron Maiden instrumental. The reissue also includes “Sub Pop Rock City,” the band’s contribution to the Sub Pop 200 compilation that featured the finest grunge acts of the day.

Tonight Sky, Tonight Sky (out now, Sunstrom Sound, tonightskymusic.com) The eponymous debut of Jason Holstrom’s latest project. Unlike his more in-your-face bands (United State of Electronica, Aqueduct, Wonderful), Tonight Sky finds Holstrom taking a warmer, more ambient musical route. The album opens with “Solstice,” which begins relatively simply, then builds into something a bit otherworldly. “Cloud City” features several layered vocal lines, lots of synth, and various effected instruments. “Flight of the Falling Star” finds Holstrom pondering a star’s path (“Could it be that/That a star is falling?/Did it hear us calling/Calling loud?”) and its existential implications (“Is it true that we go on forever?/Will we shine together in the air?”) over upbeat synths and supporting percussion. Later, Holstrom calls to mind Coldplay’s Chris Martin on “Size of Paradize,” and the album ends on a very ethereal note with “The Cold & Clear.” With hardly a beat of silence between one track and the next, the mind never really has a chance to wander, as if Holstrom designed Tonight Sky to keep the listener precisely attuned to his next move. Various samples throughout, mostly of distant birds and rushing water, anchor the 15 tracks to earth, but for the most part, Tonight Sky is close to the sonic equivalent of stargazing. I suspect that’s intentional.

 
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