Electronic warmth. Edgy sweetness. Ornate simplicity. Futuristic nostalgia. Okay, now you
can play. Choose two words that cancel each other out. Put them next to each other. Voila -- you have an instant, apt description of Buffalo Daughter's mesmerizing reconciliation of opposites, I
, the band's first album in three years.
Buffalo Daughter has always been known for incorporating a wide variety of sounds into its work, and I is no different. In addition to the standard bass, sequences, samples, guitar and (guest) drummer, they add such instruments as a string quartet, a theremin, organ clavinet and marimba. There is one song that is supposed to sound like a robot singing, another that consists almost entirely of long I sounds and still another where people continuously shout "I Know" and not much else. However, if you set the more gratuitous avant-gardities aside, you're left with a fair amount of haunting, beautiful and challenging music.
The album starts slow and pretty with "Ivory." We hear female voices, singing five notes of a scale in slightly syncopated intervals, then holding at the top, as another voice starts the same progression. It's a very simple musical idea, but lovely all the same. It continues a capella for a few bars, then bass and drums creep underneath. A guitar noodles around the same five notes on top, then about halfway through, a string quartet adds dissonance. Then, for the final minute of the song, all of the elements -- voice, rhythm, guitar and strings -- weave together in a complex tapestry that is far more than the sum of its parts.
The short, conceptual "I Know" follows, after which "Earth Punk Rockers" picks up the pace. This song has a cartoon superhero feel to it -- it's all anxiety-ridden bass, ricocheting percussion and careening electronic sirens. It's a soundtrack for alienated good guys (and girls), throwing kicks and karate chops at evil eco-villains.
A short break finds us listening to the string quartet tuning, then it's off to "Volcanic Girl", whose lyrics encapsulate I's appeal -- the hot and the cold, the planned and the accidental. Buffalo Daughter does, indeed, "blow the frozen fire" and have "magmatic soul". They, like the "she" in the song, both "refuse all definitions" and "devote themselves to playing the game". They play beat-driven, accessible pop, yet never lose their experimental edge.
The album's second half contains the longer songs, which support their own weight fairly well. Highlights are the shimmering "Mirror Ball" and the complicated percussion and marimba (courtesy of John McEntire) of "A Completely Identical Dream".
There's more than a glimpse of the future in I, a technological sheen and strangeness even in the album's most ordinary moments. Buffalo Daughter should remember, though, that the one certain thing about the future is that it keeps coming. Let's hope it doesn't take three years to get the next installment.