Showing 27 posts tagged buffalo tom
Having mentioned that the “Birdbrain” video was actually how I first heard Buffalo Tom, I’d be remiss if I didn’t post it too. It’s funny how these things work now—I own the Birdbrain album on vinyl, cassette, and mp3, and can listen to this song whenever and wherever I want, but back in 1990 and 1991, when I could barely afford to buy used cassettes for $2 a pop during my monthly record shopping excursions, I had to play the videotape of this song on the VCR in my parents’ basement whenever I wanted to hear it. Before today, I probably hadn’t watched this video in at least 15 years, but the images from it are all burned into my brain, and watching this video was one long, continual shock of recognition. I still can’t hear the song without thinking of Buffalo Tom drummer Tom Maginnis, his hair hanging in his face, drawing on a cigar as the song starts. The image of the girl riding her bike down a street in a small town during the first chorus is also pretty inseparable from the song as a whole, as is the shirtless guy standing in the bed of a truck waving his arms around like he’s trying to fly. What’s weird, though, is that my old videotape of this song was entirely in black and white. Maybe that had something to do with the low-quality high-generation copy I had—when you dub something too many times, the color starts to leech out of it. On the other hand, those color shots look like old TCM broadcasts of It’s A Wonderful Life, with the “colorization” process in effect, like they were colored in later. So maybe the original video was all black and white, and it’s been restored sometime in the past two decades. The important thing is that I remember every single shot in this video, even the ones I haven’t thought of in 17 years. The hand plucking the spider off the top of a sandwich. The cat jumping 12 feet or so out of the arms of someone sitting in a tree, then glaring at the camera. The ice cubes bouncing across a shiny floor. Buffalo Tom playing the song in a field after dark while spectators set off firecrackers at their feet. All of it. This is a piece of my childhood right here.
Buffalo Tom’s second album, Birdbrain, was released on Beggar’s Banquet Records in 1990. It was produced by J Mascis and Sean Slade.
To take things back a little ways, here is the video for “Sunflower Suit,” from Buffalo Tom’s self-titled 1988 debut album on SST. The self-titled album is a bit spottier than the next four albums they released (Birdbrain, Let Me Come Over, Big Red Letter Day, and Sleepy Eyed—all classics), and even the best songs do show a heavy influence from producer J Mascis—far more than he had on Birdbrain. I never saw or heard “Sunflower Suit” until years after owning and loving Birdbrain, and although I do love the self-titled album like it’s one of my own children, I admit that I understand why those who heard that record first may have dismissed Buffalo Tom as a second-rate band. The “Dinosaur Jr. Jr.” putdown actually doesn’t make as much sense when you hear the album as a whole—it contains quite a few dark acoustic numbers that remind me more of Rain Parade than anything Dinosaur Jr ever did. And in fact, the CD reissue of the self-titled album that came out on Beggars Banquet in the mid-90s contains a Rain Parade cover as a bonus track. As far as I’m concerned, Bill Janovitz was and is more talented than David Roback—my apologies to the Opal/Mazzy Star fans among you—but clearly, his work with Rain Parade was a prime early influence. Buffalo Tom got a lot better once they started to sound more like themselves.
This is kind of a cheat—a youtube audio-only track of Buffalo Tom’s “Impossible”—but I ultimately decided that I couldn’t waste one of my five mp3s on an example of how Buffalo Tom sounded before they really got good. However, this was initially going to be my Monday track. It’s probably the best song from the self-titled album, and has some pretty great qualities, though what’s most interesting about it are probably its flaws. The lead guitar break between verses, played by J Mascis and mixed way louder than the rest of the song on purpose, works well with the rest of the track, but makes Buffalo Tom sound a lot more like Dinosaur Jr here than I’ll bet they ever did when they played this song live. Lyrically, “Impossible” consists of little more than “And if it’s true, I will believe you. And if you’re sure, say no more,” plus a few other frequently-repeated lines. The lyrical genius to come on “Birdbrain” and other songs we’ll talk about this week is in no evidence here. And by the end of the song, you start feeling like it should have had one less verse and so have ended already. But whatever, it’s still pretty great (said the incurable fanboy), and I wanted to post it and show you guys that even when they aren’t at their best, Buffalo Tom are still worthy of more than brusque dismissal.
OK, that’s all I’ve got for you today—we’ll pick up tomorrow with Buffalo Tom’s third and, almost surely, their best album.
Let Me Come Over is Buffalo Tom’s third album, released on Beggar’s Banquet Records in 1992. Don’t get me wrong, I love every album Buffalo Tom have ever released, and I think several of them are inarguable classics. But Let Me Come Over is almost certainly their finest hour. It’s the first Buffalo Tom album made without the involvement of J Mascis. Instead, the band returned to Fort Apache studios, where they’d made their first two albums, and basically produced themselves. Fort Apache owners Paul Q. Kolderie and Sean Slade are credited as co-producers on the album, and doubtless they had some input, but it’s clear that this is a band who has come into their own, and are now controlling their own sound. That pastoral quality in their music shines through even more clearly on this album, with the heavy guitar distortion pretty much gone in favor of a cleaner sound that gains energy and urgency through the way the songs are played rather than the equipment used to play them. Let Me Come Over may be less immediately catchy as a result—I’ve never really considered it before, but it’s entirely possible that I wouldn’t have gotten into Buffalo Tom as easily had I not started with the noisier Birdbrain. But why worry about that at this point? What’s important is that this album is a classic, one on which I could much more quickly list the songs I DON’T absolutely love than the ones that are hugely important to me. If I could, I’d post at least eight songs from this album.
Let me start by saying that I do not necessarily hate “Taillights Fade,” the main single from Let Me Come Over. It’s not a bad song, and I certainly understand why they picked it as the big representative for the entire album. Ballads do well with the radio and the MTV, and some fast rave-up would probably not have reached as many people. That’s fine. But I’m still kind of bitter about how well known this song is compared to other Buffalo Tom tunes. I try to talk about how much I like them, and people go, “Oh yeah, I guess ‘Talllights Fade’ is pretty decent at that.” It makes me want to scream, because in my mind I’m thinking, “But that’s like their WORST SONG!” And no, it isn’t really their worst song, not by any stretch. But it’s just not a very good candidate to be one of their best-known songs. I mean, it could be worse—we could be having the discussion about another great power pop band, Nada Surf. When you bring up that band and everyone just thinks of their one crossover hit, “Popular,” it’s enough to make a fan claw their eyeballs out. “Popular” is kind of a joke song, it sounds nothing like the rest of their stuff, and pretty much any other Nada Surf song (“Stalemate,” “Always Love,” “Weightless”… you name it) is orders of magnitude better. OK, enough about that, this is a Buffalo Tom post, not a Nada Surf post.
Anyway, I’m just saying that most of Let Me Come Over is way better than this song. If they wanted to release a ballad as a single, I would really prefer “Mineral,” but songs like “Staples,” “Mountains Of Your Head,” and “Saving Grace” seem like even better candidates than that.