King Buffalo: Longing to be the Mountain

The cool thing about becoming aware of heavy metal in 1975 was not only the great new stuff coming out, but the whole backlog dating back 5 years. Getting turned on to a band meant 5 or so back-catalog albums to explore.  Oh, and a lot of bands released a new album every year! Each Black Sabbath was an adventure in anticipatory indulgence, and I was never disappointed, all the way through Never Say Die, an under-appreciated gem if ever there was one. As a whole, music was like that.  We knew what we were buying when we bought an album, usually without radio airplay.  The names alone evoked inevitable awesomeness: Uriah Heap, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and then Rush.  Sonic landscapes with familiar, yet always changing terrain.  We never knew exactly what we’d hear on the next song, but we knew we would hear it.

That feeling is exactly what I get when I listen to the new King Buffalo release, Longing to be the Mountain.  Opening track “Morning Song” starts with a bass-centric drone, similar to what we got on the brilliant debut album, Orion. Then, to take us by surprise, a David Gilmore-style guitar with that develops into something that could have been on the Pink Floyd album Meddle. I take it as a nod to influence, and I can think of far worse influences than early-seventies Floyd.  I admit, I was a bit hesitant hearing the reference, but the once the groove and vocals came in, and I was able to let the song take me where it wanted to. Which is letting the layers build, one on top of another, until the climax begins at about 5:50, when the dynamics the band is so good at controlling kick in. And then, at about 7:11, WHAM! YES!  THIS IS WHAT I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR! King Buffalo can hit with an infectious, fuzzy, head-bobbing intensity that is only rivaled by a band like Somali Yacht Club.  And they do.

I could relax for the rest of the album, which has some obvious influences from Elder and the bands they met/heard on their European tour. “Sun Shivers” could easily be mistaken for some bastard form of Kraut Rock. Nothing on Orion or the other EP’s sounded like this, but it still makes sense. Especially at 2:14, when they hit us again with the their WHAM! moment, albeit just briefly, then dissolve back to the main groove.  It’s a fun song.

“Cosmonaut” again stretches the style of the boys even further.  It’s definitely as close as they come to outright pop, and darn fine pop at that.  It’s a perfect Indian Summer tune that would be at place in a playlist with Orquesta de Desierto and Fatso Jetson.

“Quckening” is the obvious follow-up, with an almost Fripp-ean guitar rhythm propelling what is so far the most adventuresome song on the album. The heavy interludes dispersed in the throughout maintain the steady pulse without distracting from it. The build-up of playful guitar strumming through to the heavy-as-anything ending is the best of its type I’ve heard since Masters of Reality perfected it in the early 90’s.

Finally, we get more ominous synth-drone  as a prelude to the title track. Oh, these guys have a thing with mountains, and I bet they were salivating at the chance to write an entire song about their longing. It’s an extended Zeppelin-esque opening leading into the hypnotic guitar work of Sean McVay, followed by his clear, clean, and intelligible vocals. Drums and bass, handled so deftly by Scott Donaldson and Dan Reynolds, give the barest hint of the delights that await us. And what awaits us is another foray into the nuanced heavy-psych of a band approaching the height of their abilities. I can’t describe ‘groove’ too well, but I know it when I hear it, and King Buffalo develop groove, pace, and dynamic tension better than just about anyone.  I listen for it every time, yet I’m still surprised every time I hear it from this band. Even ‘old’ favorites from 2 years ago can still surprise me, just like truly old favorites from the mid-to-late 70’s.

I was afraid the trip was over at first. “Longing to be the Mountain” is a great song, maybe even a future classic. But I wasn’t ready for it to end…

I had no reason to worry: Scott Donaldson’s drums open the closer, “Eye of the Storm.” Right on schedule, the bass keeps things going, the guitars begin to layer, and the vocals burst forth to spin another yarn for us. Except this time, there is no release from either the tension or the inevitable build to eruption. “Eye of the Storm” is the ultimate King Buffalo jam, and is more than the equal of Orion closer “Drinking from the River Rising.”  This is a full-on heavy psych assault of the mind and senses that spins and whirls and swirls and propels itself into a controlled frenzy until eventually letting us down easy, like any perfect trip would do.

Damn, I love this band!

For more than a handful of people, Orion was one of the best debuts from a band in years. Totally self-produced and released, it was virtually perfect.  Following up something like that is daunting, but it’s been happening a lot lately. Spaceslug, Somali Yacht Club and the mighty Elder have all done it, and Colour Haze out-do themselves like clockwork.  King Buffalo can now join that top-tier of bands with this release.

I think the most amazing aspect of Longing to be the Mountain is the extent to which it’s not Orion Part II. Sure, they have their primary template intact, including the awesome keyboard droning.  But this is a more playful and experimental recording that loses none of the grooving-intensity of Orion.  The recording and mixing are also different, with a much more ‘airy’ and open sound, too use some audiophile terms. Orion sounds just a bit darker and almost muffled in comparison.

I think this is going to make a lot of ‘Top-10’ lists in a couple of months.  Most definitely Longing to be the Mountain will make an appearance on the Doom Charts. Regardless, I’m confident I’ll be listening to this for years to come.  It’s an outstanding album by a truly exceptional band. By all means: BUY IT!

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