Wounded Buffalo Theory made a name for themselves back in the zeros as a jamband playing around New York and at the upstate summer festivals. But as much as they can get crazy live, they’re also a first-class, intense, psychedelic art-rock band with strong, ferociously anthemic songwriting. At this point in their history, it’s good to see them at their creative peak. Their latest album, A Painting of Plans is streaming online; they’re headlining at Freddy’s this Friday, Nov 21 at midnight, preceded at around 10 by the similarly excellent, more Americana and blues-influenced Sometime Boys, with whom they share a guitarist and drummer (Kurt Leege and Jay Cowit, respectively).
Cowit and bassist Rob Malko give the band a hard-hitting, metrically shapeshifting platform for the lithe, biting, intertwining guitars of Leege and John Blanton (who’s also the band’s keyboardist). One album that’s an obvious influence is Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (which this group just happened to help recreate in all its trippy grandeur this past fall at Rock Shop). And this is a really long one: back in the all-vinyl days, it would have been a double-disc set. It opens with The Brain Is Half Full, cynically contemplating mortality over echoes of 80s Peter Gabriel and 90s stadium acts like Ride. The first real gem here is the ominous minor-key anthem Fistful, with its eerily, methodically dancing Leege lead, a tinge of dreampop and an ominous multitracked quasar pulse as it winds up. It brings to mind something Leege might have written in his days with paint-peeling art-noise band System Noise back in the mid-zeros.
Shores of Japan is even catchier and just as angst-fueled (though it doesn’t seem to reference 3/11), building to an anguished chorus of intertwining lead guitar lines. For whatever reason, the following cut, Sombrero, brings to mind the Yellow Magic Orchestra at its moodiest. With its chiming acoustic/electric textures, A Planning of Saints works a broodingly artsy-folk rock vibe. The album’s most epic track, Leslie Got a Rabbit builds its way out of hypnotic Frippertronic-style guitar through steadier, trip-hop inflected interludes that almost imperceptibly rise to a visceral, orchestral menace. They follow that with the equally brooding yet kinetically crescendoing Gold (Everybody Needs Some Bodies) with its surrealistically nimble guitar leads and Cowit’s knifes-edge vocals.
The Power of Nothing takes a pensive folk-pop tune and fleshes it out with an ornately layered arrangement. After the trippy, loopy instrumental Here Be Dragons, Why Now evokes the pop side of Radiohead: “I ate his head,” Malko announces nonchalantly. The band follows the trippy, circling instrumental Dirty Walls with Turtles, a more menacing variation on the theme. The Storm Celler continues to raise the menace, driven by the rhythm section’s cumulo-nimbus sonics.
They bring it down for a bit with the gorgeously angst-fueled You Have Left Me, building a thicket of chiming guitars behind Cowit’s pensive vocals. The album winds up with a boomy, gamelansque instrumental and then the title track, reverting to a Trail of the Dead anthemic pulse. What’s best is that the album is available as a name-your-price download!