What does the name Buxter Hootn suggest to you? A mashup of Buster Keaton and Burt Hooton maybe? While they don’t seem to have a vaudeville side or any connection to the Dodgers hurler from decades past, the San Francisco band is just as unpredictable and absurdly original as the name suggest. Bands like this are like bumblebees – they’re not supposed to be able to fly, mathematically speaking, but they do, and the world is better off for it. Buxter Hootn’s new album Na Na Na combines sounds that at first might seem ludicrous together: hip-hop, anthemic 90s Britrock, country and Stonesy rock music. But they make it work, and that’s what makes them unique.
You can tell right off the bat that this band is smart – their influences are all over the place, but they don’t sound like a ripoff. Frontman Ben Andrews multitracks his violin to create a one-man orchestra that adds a lush grandeur to guitarist Vince Dewald’s jangle, clang, and occasional stomp. They’re psychedelic in places and anthemic all over the place. The title track has a doomed Nashville gothic sensibility underneath a stately 6/8 anthem, rich layers of acoustic guitars growing to a couple of absolutely unexpected noise-rock interludes. It’s typical of how they take a sound from the 60s and bring it into a new century without making it awkward.
The second track, Kids Those Days (which seems to be a pun on “kiss those days…”) brings in the hip-hop vocals – and they fit perfectly over drummer Jeremy Shanok’s stomping, swaying beat. No funk cliches here: it’s all rock. Instead, Andrews’ violin swirls upwards over crunchy guitars, then the lyrics kick in: “Look into broken mirrors, see that it’s getting nearer…take the world on, shake those chains off, we’re on the outside looking in and we don’t have any more reason to pretend.” Reverb guitar and violin shriek upward on the interlude in the middle, a cool touch.
A drinking song, Fake Heart Attack combines majestic 90s Britrock, biting garage rock hook, and more hip-hop. This one’s more upbeat, but it ends with a sarcastic edge. Haunted House, basically a lush country ballad tricked out with some neat orchestration, has Andrews joining vocals with harmony singer Melissa Merrill: “Through windows the pain like decades, cobwebs hanging round,” they drawl: Faulkner through the prism of psychedelic C&W, 2012 style. They follow that with Hung Up, leaping from biting, trickily rhythmic postpunk, to hip-hop, to an anthemically orchestrated chorus in 6/8. “Computer brain looking out through your tv eyes, caught between all the fear and lies,” Andrews raps. As apprehensive as the first part of the song is, it has an outro that’s too funny to give away here. The last track on the album is Better Way, another Nashville gothic tune that starts out delicately and then turns into a hammering anthem. You like original? This is for you. Bay Area fans can catch Buxter Hootn’s next show on September 8 at 9 PM at Viracocha, 998 Valencia St. in San Francisco.