Dead Star by King BuffaloRelease date: March 20, 2020
Label: Stickman Records
I don’t really know what to call this latest release from King Buffalo, too long to be an EP and perhaps too slight to be an album, but in these times of great uncertainty maybe we should just be glad that it exists and embrace it. We’ve been here before with the band releasing the EP Repeater in-between album debut Orion and 2018’s masterful Longing To Be The Mountain – the band seem, rightly, more worried about creativity and experimentation than fitting into any sort of recognised form.
That previous release Longing To Be The Mountain was for many a psych and stoner fan, one of the albums of that year, with the band reaching new levels of sophistication, and more importantly attaining a sort of spiritual, meditative power in their music virtually unmatched in their field.
Dead Star sees the band leave behind the earthbound considerations of the natural world and blast off, if gently, into space. The opening epic, ‘Red Star Pt 1&2’ emerges slowly, with synth pulses, sparse, delicate guitar figures and slow tribal drumming from Scott Donaldson, as vocalist Sean McVay’s voice drifts in like a cloud of comic dust. Within five minutes it is obvious we are back in classic King Buffalo territory as the band build drama and texture effortlessly. This is one of the key talents of the band – songs never wallow or stagnate despite an air of Zen-like calm, the music progresses organically, everything perfectly judged. After about ten minutes the guitars of McVay become more strident, sounding like a classic Lizzy twin guitar melody and then the song punches through the ether, the lyric more angry as Donaldson puts a simple heavy beat down and bassist Dan Reynolds matches him while McVay solos and riffs heroically. It’s not a style we’re used to hearing from King Buffalo and I find it a bit jarring at first as it apes King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard circa Murder of the Universe just a little too closely for comfort. It does show the band branching out and of course they do it brilliantly, the whole thing is a triumph, and perhaps it’s wrong to expect every move they make to be wholly original.
‘Echo of a Waning Star’ is one of the prettiest songs the band has ever written, beginning with McVay’s soothing balm of a voice and growing grander as Donaldson hits a sweet jazzy rhythm and the guitars ring out. It is over far too quickly but leads into one of the most surprising moments on Dead Star, the expertly realised retro-futurist synth track ‘Ecliptic’. It playfully brings to mind all those sci-fi epics of the 1980’s, a mixture of Blade Runner, Alien, Terminator and perhaps something more creepy by John Carpenter.
‘Eta Carinae’ with a staccato, morse code guitar line and driving rhythms again recalls King Gizzard, but this time McVay’s vocals stay more within his normal, blissed out equanimity, despite being another tale of galactic strife. As the drama unfolds the songs gets heavier and heavier and we get huge extending guitar lines, soaring out into the universe and a lovely Sabbath-type breakdown as Donaldson again excels on the sticks. This song fits enough skill, flair and expertise within its 8 minutes to make this an essential purchase on its own, never mind the rest of the fabulousness on display here.
It ends with the title track ‘Dead Star’, and what was I saying about the band writing pretty songs? Well, here’s another. ‘Dead Star’ is a master class in heart-swelling, psych rock, giving the feeling of wide-eyed souls gazing wistfully out onto a sky full of sadness and loss. The acoustic work on it by McVay is outstanding in its simple melodic message.
Quite simply, King Buffalo continue to release music that renders the majority of the psych and stoner scene irrelevant. This dead star is a heavenly body.