[Click play above to stream King Buffalo’s debut LP, Orion, in its entirety. Album is out officially on Aug. 5 and King Buffalo play The Obelisk All-Dayer (tickets here) on Aug. 20 at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn.]
A debut long-player from King Buffalo has been eagerly anticipated since the Rochester pastoralists issued their initial demo in 2013 (review here). That short release found guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay and bassist Dan Reynolds, both from Abandoned Buildings Club, and guitarist/vocalist Randall Coon and drummer/backing vocalist Scott Donaldson, both formerly of Velvet Elvis digging into landscape-infused heavy psych riffing; jams that seemed to spread out as they grew. It was an encouraging start to say the least. Having lost Coon to a move to Philadelphia, King Buffalo tested the waters as a trio both live and on their 2015 split LP with now-defunct Swedes Lé Betre on STB Records (review here), and with more touring under their collective belt, they make their full-length debut under the banner of Orion, offering immediate invocation of big constellations spread across even bigger nighttime skies that perfectly mirrors the ambience and seamless flow of the album itself.
Though their delivery has a vitality doubtless born from their not-inconsiderable time on stage together, and seems to have been captured in the studio with that in mind, it is the languid, serene-but-not-necessarily-peaceful ease with which they execute the eight songs/47 minutes that stands out even more. McVay and Reynolds‘ tones are geared toward the organic, and Donaldson‘s ability to give even the most subdued stretches and circular jams a sense of forward motion, as on the opening title-track (also streamed here) or the rolling nod of “Kerosene,” resides among King Buffalo‘s greatest strengths.
They’ve been compared on more than one occasion to Nashville’s All Them Witches — a band with whom they’re closely linked, having toured together more than once and brought aboard bassist Michael Parks to fill in for Reynolds at shows as recently as this summer — and that’s fair enough for some of the jammy feel and Americana flourish, but if Orion does anything at all, it establishes King Buffalo as an entity on their own wavelength. Even those aspects of what they do that might come across as familiar have been shaped into something new here, and the songs set a dynamic range that is wildly open and populates a world with its own characters and settings, be it in “She Sleeps on a Vine,” “Goliath,” “Drinking from the River Rising” or “Orion” itself, which begins the album that carries its name with a graceful unfolding, stretching out with guitar and bass for its first minute-plus before Donaldson comes in on drums. Right away, they’re taking their time — patient, fluid, lightly hypnotic — but nothing about Orion comes across as lazy, and it’s worth noting that where they could’ve easily gone with an intro track before the start of the opener, they built their introduction from the song itself and took a more natural, less pretentious route.
A driving swing emerges in the second half of “Orion,” the first of several righteous thrusts the record has on offer, and amps fade into the quiet lines that open “Monolith,” joined soon by McVay‘s vocals. It’s a not dissimilar start, but “Monolith” goes in a different direction, setting a more active jangly guitar shuffle punctuated by toms and held together by Reynolds‘ bass. McVay takes a swirling solo late and the transition into “She Sleeps on a Vine” is direct, the song at 7:31 second only to “Drinking from the River Rising” in length and with the foundation again in the low end, hits into a highlight jam, smooth flowing, right in its pace and building vibe, and still catchy enough to be one of Orion‘s most memorable impressions. It’s pretty raucous by the finish, and that momentum carries into the upbeat start of “Kerosene,” the six-minute roundout to side A that has its footing in just about everything King Buffalo have thus far had on offer and offers a hook of its own that stands up to “She Sleeps on a Vine” easily in its midsection before breaking to drums and bass and sparse guitar noise to set the bed for a riff-driven concluding push that gloriously builds and pulls itself apart as it leaves stratosphere behind.
Side B immediately expands the context of the album overall by bringing acoustic guitar forward with a gentle vocal from McVay, who soon layers in accent notes of electric slide or pedal steel. Bass and kick drum join in seamlessly but the spirit stays quiet, contemplative, sweet and almost melancholy, and even when Donaldson brings in the hi-hat and snare in the second half, they hold that firm, and rightly so to lead into the immediate spaciousness of “Goliath” — by title alone it should be the heaviest song on the record but I don’t think King Buffalo use standard measurement principles; all the better — which moves from that stretch into another forward push, this one marked out further by its fuzz-toned guitar and rhythmic verses.
A complement to the opener, “Orion Subsiding” seems to be an answer more in vibe than what’s actually being played, reenacting the liquefied motion that the band seems to conjure at will, subtly moving toward louder riffing and more fervent crash in the back end but shifting before they’re done once more to the languid lines of guitar and bass that ultimately define the cut along with McVay‘s vocals, which underline their importance to the mood and hue of the album with the folk-blues inflection that begins “Drinking from the River Rising,” calling to mind David Eugene Edwards as much as the aforementioned Parks, and carrying the first two minutes of the 10-minute closer easily before the central guitar and basslines and drum progression take hold. From there, King Buffalo set quickly about winding their way through one more expanse, gradually, again patiently, making their way toward the apex of the album, and in that doing well to reinforce the chemistry and dynamic between the three of them, as seen in the midsection flourish of bass from Reynolds and the far-no-farther-out guitars from McVay that complement over Donaldson‘s drums.
At 6:20, McVay asks, “Where will you go when the well runs dry?” and the final build begins in earnest, thudding, chugging and all. The remainder of “Drinking from the River Rising” is given to a molten, heavy jam that, yes, brings Orion to its peak, but also emphasizes one more time the live feel that has remained throughout, no matter how many layers are in play at any given moment. That may be finally where King Buffalo are defined — on stage — but they’re not there yet either way, and they benefit greatly from the open creativity on display in Orion‘s tracks and from that sense of exploration of their sound and their dynamic. It would be a great third LP, but factoring in that this is their first, Orion is even more impressive for the cohesion that so clearly rests beneath all that exploration and the skill with which the band walks the line between the two. No question it will stand among the best debuts of 2016.