Review: “Change of Scenery” by Buddie

“Change of Scenery” is as fun as it is earnest, a raucous album intent on engaging the world rather than escaping it, a thoroughly enjoyable musical paradox.”

FFO Weezer, Pavement, Built to Spill

“How can I live with myself not helping anyone else?” As the flurry of distorted guitars reach their blaring crescendo on opening track Sloth,vocalist Dan Forrest of Philadelphia alternative outfit Buddiesets the tone with just one line. Once a conservation biologist in Equatorial Guinea, Forrest now spends his time writing fuzz rock in the vein of Pavement and early Weezer, though where his forebears made their careers writing about unrequited love, on Change of Scenery Forrest instead writes songs that are much more uniquely conscious. They may still be dorky, but only in the sense that anything passionate that isn’t drenched in cynicism isn’t patently “cool” in 2019. 

Second track and early stand-out Sinktouches on exactly that: “Wear my heart on my sleeve / But it’s not cool to be naïve / And now I look a fool / While everyone else tries to be called cool.”It’s a shockingly vulnerable lyric for a song that eventually builds into an infectious power-pop hook centered on the lyric, “Oh no, I’m feeling like I’m Michael Cera.” But that is precisely the magic and strength of Forrest’s songwriting; he writes songs that deal with big-picture problems in a tone that is strikingly modest and good-natured. Though his background gives him plenty of room to preach, he never patronizes the listener. Even his most confrontational lines come out more earnest than angry, because at the heart of these songs there is more carethan there is angst. That posturing sets Buddiein a corner all their own in the world of fuzz rock, a genre usually reserved for the slacker, the stoner, and the lackadaisical character motifs.

Nowhere is this difference more apparent than in the anthemic closer Privileged Youthwhere Forrest grapples with his position of advantage as a white American, capping it off with the pseudo-psychedelic bridge: “The institutions are racist / The institutions are bigots / The institutions are fascists / And I reap the rewards / And they keep the poor poor.” Lyrically it’s more akin to early Anti-Flagthan Weezer, but even here at his most direct and unapologetic Forrest chooses to appeal to humanity first and foremost, concluding his thought with one last run of the chorus: “…It’s the same road everyone’s walking / There’s no traffic from here / I know you’re working, everyone’s working / But can’t you see we have the upper-hand? …” It’s a breath of fresh air from a perspective not often found in fuzz rock or even alternative as a whole.

Change of Scenery is much more than a rare endearing, political album, however. Beyond it’s thoughtful lyrics, its true strength is that it’s also just a kickass rock record. There are enough cathartic choruses, huge chords, and tasteful tempo changes to keep casual and critical listeners alike engaged and satisfied from start to finish. It’s proof that you don’t have to play it cool and put on a sullen demeanor to make impactful art. On Change of Scenery, Buddienever miss a second of fun while making their point; it’s the kind of album equally as conducive to guitar flips as it is to inspiring contemplation. 

If there is one weak spot on the EP, it would probably be the middle track Selva,which has the misfortune of falling between two of the hookiest songs on the album Sink and Anxty. It’s not a bad song by any means, an internal monologue about leaving the Equatorial rain forest after experiencing so much personal growth there and then trying to re-adjust to life in America, but it is the lone song that doesn’t reward the listener with an immediate earworm of a hook. Considering that’s the worst thing I can say about this EP, it’s pretty fair to say that Buddie nailed their debut.

All in all the new EP from Buddie is a clear stand-out within its genre, a fresh voice and perspective from a talented new songwriter with a dynamic musical core as his vehicle. Change of Scenery is as fun as it is earnest, a raucous album intent on engaging the world rather than escaping it, a thoroughly enjoyable musical paradox. We can’t wait to see what this promising young band does next.

7.8/10 (Stand-Out)

For more information on how we score albums see:
https://notasound.org/2018/11/01/our-rating-scale/

Review: “The Mystic and the Master” by Laura Stevenson

Laura Stevenson has been quietly making a name for herself for the better part of the last decade. After a stint playing keyboards for the now legendary punk band Bomb the Music Industry!featuring none other than the eternal Jeff Rosenstock, Stevenson embarked on her own as a singer/songwriter, releasing her first solo offering A Recordin 2010. Since then she’s released three more full lengths and garnered a modest, but devoted following on the back of her artfully introspective lyrics and emotive singing voice. Despite her real-world success though, Stevenson has largely flown under the critical radar. This is confusing not only because of her clear talent as a lyricist, but also considering she runs in the same circle as recognizable artists like Jeff Rosenstock and Chris Farren. Her predicament calls to mind that of Kevin Devine, another artist who is almost as talented as he is criminally underrated and whose situation seems to defy all prevailing logic. 

The Mystic and the Masteris the first new release from the New York songwriter since her 2015 full-length Cocksure.It is a two-song double single released on her mother’s birthday as a nod of appreciation for “enduring” the raising of her and her sister. In contrast to some of her prior work, both tracks are performed with only acoustic, strings, and voice. This stripped back arrangement feels even more intimate than usual for Stevenson, who makes use of the opportunity to deliver some of the sharpest and most nostalgic lines she’s penned yet. 

On the title track she paints a stunning portrait of her mother: “Cause she loves you ’til she shrinks and she thins / Like a violet in a violin / And she’ll paint you a shiny porcelain tooth / Like the one that hangs in hunch / From her second man’s sucker punch.” With each subsequent line Stevenson blows the dust from the family photo album, providing vivid if melancholic snapshots of family tradition, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice. It’s storytelling through embodiment, unpacking the person of her mother into an engaging narrative. When she moves on to the second track, Maker of Things, she pivots into a more traditional storytelling method, but achieves the same effect. Here she juxtaposes a fight between her sister and her mother at a gas station during her childhood with witnessing the closing of the same gas station as an adult. Staring into the parking lot, surrounded by “for sale” signs, Stevenson trades her air of nostalgia for resolve: “I don’t feel small / I don’t wince, I’m not ashamed / I feel big, I push back, only time I did that.” 

Though brief, The Mystic and the Master double single is one of the most gripping releases from this December, a clinic on emotive storytelling and a reminder of the underappreciated songwriter’s superior skill with words. For those unfamiliar with Laura Stevenson’s back catalog it also provides an easy launch pad into her work; some of her most potent songs put into a succinct and accessible package. Hopefully this movement on her part foreshadows a full form return to new music, because with her writing the sharper than ever, 2019 could finally be the Stevenson breakout we’ve been waiting for.  

7.4/10 (Stand Out)

For more information on how our scoring system works see: https://notasound.org/2018/11/01/our-rating-scale/

Review: Central States EP by Mr. Golden Sun

There’s a certain kind of calm that can only be experienced on the open highways of the American Mid-West. Long before the journey takes its toll and the stir-crazy sets in there is a fleeting period of serenity that envelops travelers in this region. For only a moment the passenger chatter dies down, the traffic all but vanishes, and the landscape dissolves into green and brown pastels. The only sound is the rumble of the road. The world ahead looks open and endless. In the same car once filled with hectic energy there is, if only for this moment, peace.

Mr. Golden Sunhails from Kansas City, Missouri, well within the range that this pleasant phenomenon regularly occurs. Perhaps that is why the newest offering from the Matt-Hamer-led folk-rock project, Central States EP, seems to capture and personify that specific mood so perfectly. It’s an EP content to breath easy, immersing you in soft acoustic guitars, soothing melodies, and dreamy, atmospheric production. Make no mistake though; this is not a chilled out, stripped-down mood piece. Rather it stays in steady motion from opener Place & Timeall the way through closer The Comedian, never really gaining or loosing too much momentum, just maintaining a comfortable, sleepy pace; gliding like a car down an empty highway. 

It’s fitting then that Central States EP begins with the narrator breaking down on the interstate. Here on the standout track Place and Time, Hamer displays a knack for turning everyday inconvenience into something distinctly romantic. “I was sure when the chorus dropped/ That Kansas City was the will of God” he croons in a song that begins stranded on the shoulder of the highway and ends in a fulfilling marriage. Hamer’s storytelling is one of his strongest points, writing characters that feel real and personal. While rarely overt, there is also a certain spiritual undertone that helps connect each song on the EP, using religious images like “living water” and “pillar of cloud/…pillar of flame” while playing with themes such as rebirth. This helps Hamer frame his songs about everyday life in a loose, but powerful grand narrative. Nowhere is this more evident than in the penultimate track Goldfinches, another clear standout, where Hamer forsakes the slow drive of much of the album for a 6/8 waltz that sees him searching for the spiritual connection between the migration of birds and the language written in his own chest. It’s a track brimming with real yearning, easily relatable whether applied to the concept of God, some vague transcendence, or even just the search for meaning and connectedness.

Central States is not without its weaknesses, however. The consistency of the mood is both one the EP’s greatest strengths and also what keeps it from breaking much in the way of new ground in its genre. In six tracks, only Flyover Country really breaks the sleepy spell cast over the work as a whole, and though the song in isolation is a great track, its vaguely chip-tune synths make it feel just a hair out of place on an album that doesn’t give much context for that particular experiment. That leaves the song in an unfortunate catch twenty-two where it does provide a needed pace-change, but in doing so it also ruptures the immersive atmosphere set up by the tracks both preceding and following it.

All that aside, Central States does what it’s trying to do well. The mood is relaxing and pleasant, the writing is both engaging and thought-provoking, and the instrumentals shine when given their proper spotlight. While it may not be radically ground-breaking, it is still quite good within its folk-rock context and certainly merits a listen the next time you hit that moment of sacred peace on a cross-country road trip. One of the benefits of its mood and genre is that it is widely listenable and enjoyable across demographics, so most anyone can readily find a situation for it. For Mr. Golden Sun it serves as a nice foundation on which to build for the future; a solid first offering from a clearly talented songwriter.  

6.6/10 (Solid)

For information on what our album scores mean see:
https://notasound.org/2018/11/01/our-rating-scale/