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/r/QOTSA Official Band of the Week 23: KING BUFFALO

2020.10.09 13:08 House_of_Suns /r/QOTSA Official Band of the Week 23: KING BUFFALO

So when you think of cities with high culture and vibrant music scenes on the east coast, what springs to mind? Obviously New York. Thanks to Drake, we all know about the growing music scene in Toronto. You prahbahbly musta tawt a Bawstan tew. Maybe Montreal or Philadelphia or even Baltimore crossed your mind.
Hah. Baltimore.
Time to check your cultural bias, pal. You passed over a quiet little city on the south shore of Lake Ontario, nestled in the Genesee River valley. It has a history as a hotbed of Abolitionism and Women’s Rights. It is the home of Eastman Kodak, Xerox, Bausch & Lomb, Western Union, Ragu and other innovative companies. It has a lively music scene, great nightclubs, world-renowned universities, thriving museums, arts & culture festivals, and (back when we could actually attend it) live theatre. It is a true cultural gem that many folks overlook.
Yep. You bet your ass I am talking about Rochester, New York.
Since we know that Stoner Rock can come from anywhere, it should be no surprise that Rochester has produced one of the leading bands in this genre. This week we are going to check out a band you are going to want to listen to. If you know them, you love them. If you haven’t heard of them, you are going to thank me.
This week’s band is KING BUFFALO.
About Them
Hold on a sec. King Buffalo? Not King Rochester?
To be fair, King Rochester sounds like the villain in a Disney movie. Kinda hard to imagine that on a T-Shirt. King New York sounds like a particularly obnoxious Yankees fan (and yeah, finding a Yankees fan that isn’t obnoxious is a tough go). King Albany sounds like a car made by Kia.
But King Buffalo? That just works.
Our heros didn’t start out together. King Buffalo were made up of members of two other Rochester area bands.
Randall Coon and Scott Donaldson were playing together in Velvet Elvis. That five piece band played heavy rock with space-based themes in the early 2010’s. Sean McVay and Dan Reynolds were in another band called Abandoned Buildings Club (side note: kinda neat that their initials were ABC), who had a pure psychedelic rock vibe. When both VE and ABC appeared to be having limited success, the four musicians decided to merge their talents into one band. Coon had handled vocals and guitar in Velvet Elvis and Donaldson had been rock solid on drums. McVay had done vocals and guitar in Abandoned Buildings Club and Reynolds had anchored the sound with his bass. All the pieces were there for a classic Beatles-esque lineup.
So out of the wreckage of ABC and VE, KB arose. The four members gelled so well that they were able to record their first demo - aptly titled Demo - in just two days. Their sound was immediately compared to tourmates and close friends All Them Witches. But where ATW were bluesy and sludgy, King Buffalo had produced songs full of space. Oh, there were heavy riffs for sure - but there were passages of music that were contrastingly lighter and further apart. The best example of these contrasts can be found in the more than 11 minutes of Providence Eye. The first six and a half minutes come at you at a lulling pace, enveloping you in the moment. You get swept up in the rolling riffs. But then the drop happens and you suddenly realize the song has been building to this peak. The tempo picks up and you ride a relentless rollercoaster until you hit the Black Sabbath-inspired outro, which takes you home. It is an emotional experience. The two other tracks - In Dim Light and Pocket Full of Knife are smaller essays on the same theme.
It was clear right from Demo that King Buffalo had some serious talent. But if you have listened to the band you will notice that one thing is starkly different on Demo than from any of their other releases: the vocals. Randall Coon was the lead vocalist on these recordings. If you play them up against anything since by the band they stand out. Our very own QotSA may have successfully had multiple vocalists on multiple tunes, but King Buffalo was destined to have Sean McVay take over the mic. Shortly after 2013’s Demo, Coon left the band to do a solo project called Skunk Hawk.
King Buffalo stood at a crossroads: did they look to replace Coon, or should they carry on as a Power Trio? The choice for them was obvious. McVay, Reynolds and Donaldson knew that they had fantastic potential together. They decided they didn't need anyone else.
Side note: Regular readers of these write ups know that All Them Witches just went through this exact crisis in 2019. What I didn’t share then is that ATW are close friends with KB. I would not be surprised to learn that ATW had some serious conversations about their lineup with the boys from KB before they, too, decided last year to pare down to just three members.
To re-christen their new lineup, in 2015 King Buffalo went in on a split EP with Swedish band Lé Betre (I mean, hooking up with a Swedish partner is a dream of mine, so I see the appeal.) They re-recorded their standout tune Providence Eye with McVay on vocals, as well as two new tracks - Like a Cadillac and New Time. New Time opens their side of the EP with an infectious, descending riff that hooks you immediately. It is clear from the lyrics - No wasting around, it’s a new time - that they had moved on from Coon. Like a Cadillac follows up and is a three and a half minute jam that leaves you wanting more. The re-recorded version of Providence Eye closes out their side of the split EP and leaves no doubt that they are in charge. It is a tighter, heavier version, and the amazing outro is so low down that it will make you want to rob your own house.
With their lineup now set, it was time to put together enough music to tour on. In 2016, King Buffalo released Orion. Here you can witness the melding of their influences into something majestic and fantastic, and it is here that they really develop their signature style.
To explain this style, you need to understand basic song structure.
Most pop songs tend to go verse - chorus - verse - chorus - bridge - chorus - chorus. Sure, you could add in a solo for the bridge, or a detailed intro or outro, or another verse - but this is a tried and true formula. Some variation of this dominates the pop charts to this day.
Not with King Buffalo songs. These guys are the masters of the drop, and you hear it in most of their tunes. QotSA fans are no strangers to that long build and release; it is an integral part of tunes like The Evil Has Landed, God is in the Radio, Song For The Dead, and I Appear Missing. One of the sickest drops ever recorded happens in the middle of the Them Crooked Vultures tune No One Loves Me & Neither Do I. It is where the music turns around, and a new riff takes over, often along with a pace change. It is then that you realize that the song has built to this climactic moment, and you are engulfed by the music.
King Buffalo does this better than anyone else, and you hear it clearly articulated, again and again, on the album Orion.
Take the song Kerosene for example.
A rolling bass riff from Reynolds establishes the song right out of the gate. Donaldson produces punchy drum beats with cymbal crashes at the end of each phrase. McVay’s slide guitar rounds out the intro. McVay’s vocals - very Ozzy like, if Ozzy had any semblance of self-control - frame the first verse, which ends in a fuzzy, heavy riff with crashing cymbals. This same pattern is repeated a second time and the drop is teased at just past three minutes in, but does not happen quite yet. The listener’s anticipation builds as the airy, soaring solo from McVay calls out in contrast to the rolling bass. After the guitar solo bridge, the band goes right back into the chorus. But then it happens: THE DROP. Just past 5 minutes in, the song takes a complete and abrupt turn for a totally different riff that is at the same time heavier and brand new, and yet has been there all the while.
What King Buffalo does brilliantly is subvert your musical expectations.
The standard structure is V-C-V-C-B-C-C.
Kerosene is V-C-V-C-B-C-DROP-OUTRO. Just when you subliminally expect something the same, you get something different.
The entire album is like that. Orion hardly sounds like a debut. It is a mature and deliberate soundscape built by talented musicians who are making significant choices about their art. Songs like Drinking From The River Rising open with an expansive and elastic topography, but drill down to the molten lava of heavy riffs and distorted fuzz. Sleeps On A Vine begins with one of the most zen riffs you’ve ever heard and ends in a tumultuous and heavy sonic assault that is pure controlled chaos. Every song on the album is a study in contrasts that leaves you with auditory whiplash and a burning desire for more.
They are that good.
King Buffalo were able to tour on their new material, and did so extensively. They played clubs and larger venues, often with friends and fellow Stoner Rockers All Them Witches and other bands like The Sword and Elder. In 2017, the released the EP Repeater as a follow up. It is just three songs (The vinyl ad reads, All songs on one side! No need to flip!) but it is a heck of a musical journey. The title track off the EP is 13+ minutes long and is one huge build. When the fuzz finally drops after almost 8 minutes, it is a true cathartic moment. It sneaks up on you, and is so welcome when it hits - especially after McVay’s repetition that “Every Day is the Same* - that you intrinsically understand how great it is when things finally change for the better. Too Little Too Late is an instrumental tune that is both enveloping and expansive. It is a terrific bridge to the final track, Centurion, which is an unbelievable groove. Centurion has three minutes of set up leading to an unreal fuzzy drop that is so dirty it will get you evicted from your apartment.
The influence of their touring with All Them Witches can also be seen on their next full length release, 2018’s Longing To Be The Mountain. Ben McLeod from ATW produced the album. ATW, The Sword and Elder are all thanked in the liner notes. The album picks up right where Repeater leaves off, with KB experimenting with long form songs like Morning Song and the title track, and shorter jams like Sun Shivers, Cosmonaut, and Quickening. Reynolds and McVay pepper the songs with synthesizer sounds that add colour and texture to the overall compositions. Donaldson drums with impeccable precision to provide each song with a safe mooring to return to, driving the guitars forward at the same time as he holds the rhythm in check. This is most clearly evident in Eye Of The Storm. The result is a rich tapestry of expansive and flowing music full of heavy jams and storytelling that will leave the listener wanting more. Their signature build-to-sonic-explosion style does not let fans down.
The success of Longing To Be The Mountain allowed for extensive touring across North America and Europe. It also led to appearances at bigger gigs, like at Rockpalast and the Stoned & Dusted desert rock event in 2019. Anyone that has seen any of their live work knows that King Buffalo are simply hypnotizing on stage. Reynolds’ bass work is reminiscent of Geddy Lee with his complex and flowing style. Donaldson brings controlled power to the drum kit, and is ready to cut loose when the drop comes. And McVay has become a true front man, comfortable with the lead voice on guitar and the microphone.
Their most recent release, Dead Star, dropped in 2020 and generated all kinds of buzz in the Stoner Rock scene. Of course, the tour planned to support it got axed when the entire world went into lockdown. But the (short album? EP? New material?) is simply fantastic. Red Star Pt. 1 & 2 continues their long form examination and has everything you’d expect from them. Echo of A Waning Star is a lament of just over 3 minutes that is near-perfect. Ecliptic sounds like the soundtrack to a John Carpenter movie and is a complete jam with serious cool 1980’s vibes. Dead Star, the title track, is almost Radiohead-esque in its evocative and regretful take on death and decay.
But the standout track has to be Eta Carinae, which has one of the greatest musical drops and turn-arounds you will ever hear. The entire song pivots just past four minutes in and becomes a 70’s anthem worthy of Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath. If you listen to no other tune here today, you have to check it out. It will absolutely get stuck in your head.
Even though they could not tour, King Buffalo have not been idle during the Quarantine. Their Quarantine Series on Youtube shared excerpts from their catalogue with fans, all played live. They have been back in the studio, and have promised MULTIPLE full length albums of new material coming our way, starting in 2021. They even have (optimistically) set tour dates for next year.
Some of us learned to bake during quarantine. Some of us got baked. I, for one, am super stoked that KB kept on writing and recording. I cannot wait for Rochester’s finest sons to release new material. I want everyone to hear this band because they really are something special.
Links to QOTSA
We know that QotSA front man Josh Homme and Kyuss invented Stoner Rock in the 1990’s. They were the genre-defining band. King Buffalo (and other bands like All Them Witches) have picked up this proverbial torch and are now bringing the sound to the next generation of fans. King Buffalo drummer Scott Donaldson is known to be a huge QotSA fan. Perhaps he saw them live when they played in Rochester in 2014 in support of ...Like Clockwork.
It is also sometimes easy to forget that Josh was not the only architect of the low desert sound. Original Kyuss Drummer and co-founder Brant Bjork wrote many Kyuss tunes and continues to be a leader in the music scene today. King Buffalo have played with Bjork at festivals three times: Freak Valley Festival, Black Deer Festival and the aforementioned Stoned & Dusted. There is also a planned collaborative project between Bjork and King Buffalo that may be coming our way soon.
The future is bright, my friends.
Their Music
Providence Eye
In Dim Light
Pocket Full of Knife
King Buffalo songs from the Split EP with Lé Betre
Kerosene -- live in 2016
Drinking From The River Rising
Orion - entire album on Genesee Live
RepeateCenturion -- Recorded Live in the Quarantine Sessions put out by the band
Live at Rockpalast in 2019 - includes songs from LTBTM
Longing To Be The Mountain - Quarantine Sessions
Quickening -- everything is cool until the snake head pops out. Red Star Pt. 2 -- the official video
Ecliptic
Eta Carinae
Dead Star - Full Album
Show Them Some Love
/KingBuffalo - C’mon, everyone -- there are just 96 subscribers. Those are rookie numbers. You gotta pump those numbers up.
Previous Posts
Tool
Alice in Chains
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
Rage Against the Machine
Soundgarden
Run the Jewels
Royal Blood
Arctic Monkeys
Ty Segall
Eagles of Death Metal
Them Crooked Vultures
Led Zeppelin
Greta Van Fleet
Ten Commandos
Screaming Trees
Sound City Players
Iggy Pop
Mastodon
The Strokes
Radiohead
All Them Witches
ZZ Top
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