On Wax: Lé Betre and King Buffalo, Split


It seems unlikely at this point that I’d need to once more trumpet the quality of STB Records‘ vinyl. The NJ-based label has quickly thrust itself to the fore of American heavy rock purveyors, bringing forth limited releases that seem to be gone before they’re even out and delving into next-generation heavy rock with an ear for tone and a consistently mindful presentation. In the case of the split 12″ between Sweden’s Lé Betre and New York’s King Buffalo, the vinyl is, of course, already gone. Second pressing coming soon. Numbers were limited — 350 or so copies in white, orange, white and orange or clear with orange splatter — but as with everything STB puts out at this point, speed is required if you actually want to get a copy. Pressed to 180g white vinyl with a two-sided liner (one side for each band) le-betre-king-buffalo-vinyl-side-band evocative cover art, the Lé Betre and King Buffalo split does justice to the up and coming nature of both bands.

That in itself is saying something. Lé Betre also released what was apparently a super-limited, 30-copies-only edition of their 2014 debut album, Melas, through STB that likewise vanished as soon as it arrived, and it’s from that album that most of their material for this split comes. Three out of their five tracks, “Gowns and Crowns,” “Snake Eyes” and  “By the Great White Lights,” which has a companion piece included on the prior release, seem to have their roots on Melas, the four-piece of guitarist/vocalist/pianist Marcus Jonsson, guitarist/vocalist Anders Westman, bassist/vocalist Roger Lysén and drummer Jonas Sahlberg tapping into Graveyard-style blues rock without going full-retro in terms of the production, a song like “Jesper Eriksson” pushing vocals forward amid a steady roll that’s open and natural-sounding, but not nearly as analog-minded as one might expect going into it. Keyboard and/or organ plays a large part as well, and with the due fuzz and strum, it’s hard to tell on “Gowns and Crowns” where the guitars end and the keys begin, but that winds up being half the fun. Soulful if familiar, the jangle of “By the Great White Lights” makes a suitable centerpiece to side A, though handclap-infused closer “Mother,” also the longest Lé Betre inclusion, is their most resonant take, providing a better look at the band’s balance of organic flow and tight songwriting than earlier, shorter cuts, catchy as those are.

I’ll admit to some pretty high anticipation when it came to hearing new material from King Buffalo, whose 2013 demo (review here) still gets regular plays. Then a four-piece and now a trio — if you’re looking for former guitarist/vocalist Randall Coon, check out Skunk HawkKing Buffalo seem to have solidified some of their jammier impulses. Of their three inclusions, closer “Providence Eye” is the only one that previously appeared on the demo, and it was re-recorded by guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay along with the two new tracks, “New Time” and “Like a Cadillac,” which both follow suit from Lé Betre‘s jammy songwriting blend, if with their own, more pastoral take. McVay, bassist Dan Reynolds and drummer Scott Donaldson started out with a noteworthy chemistry and have only pushed it forward over the last year-plus, as a comparison of the two versions of “Providence Eye” shows, but “New Time” and “Like a Cadillac” tell more of the story of their progression, taking the swing and molten vibe of their looser, longer demo material and tightening it up with more structured songwriting. le-betre-king-buffalo-front-coverI’m dying to hear what these guys come up with for a full-length, and what experimental edge they might be able to bring to that form in acoustic parts, keyboard interludes, etc., but the commitment to a natural sound King Buffalo show on this split shines all on its own and wants little for expansion. They were on the right track before, they’re still on the right track. It’s good to know, and hopefully they keep writing.

While it would be inappropriate to call either band “established” at this point, both seem to be heading in that direction, Lé Betre following their Melas album, King Buffalo following their demo and lineup change, and it’s particularly remarkable that Lé Betre, for whom this split is ostensibly the first North American release, would get the A side and King Buffalo the B, considering the latter act has toured at least on the East Coast and is native to the region from which the label also hails. I chalk it up to STB and both bands making the decision to put exposing Lé Betre to as many ears as possible a top priority, and that proves a worthy cause as the Swedish act’s five songs play out. Lé Betre‘s bluesy inflection and King Buffalo‘s rural roll wind up giving a glimpse at where European and American heavy rock are headed, and wouldn’t you know, they fit together very, very well.

Lé Betre, “Gowns and Crowns”

King Buffalo, “Providence Eye”

Lé Betre on Thee Facebooks

Lé Betre on Bandcamp

King Buffalo on Thee Facebooks

King Buffalo on Bandcamp

STB Records

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