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Year Of The White Buffalo
... Year Of The White Buffalo
Black & Blue Star

Year Of The White Buffalo's self-titled debut commences with the misleading "There's A Bug In My Head," a brief but effective instrumental with a haunting, albeit basic, keyboard melody plunked out over a backdrop of ambient guitar feedback. Such an intro could portend many things, from avant-garde soundscapes to a black metal band warming up before unleashing the heaviness. In this case, it inexplicably leads into a set of blustering rock songs full of chunky chords and hearty, earnest vocals, all of which seem aimed at capturing the venerated (or at least Vedderated) glory days of mid-90s grunge, but which, at their best, recall all-star side projects like Brad or Mad Season, where songs that couldn't make the cut on actual Pearl Jam or Alice In Chains albums went to die.

Typical is "4 P.J.," with one-man-band Buffalo-meister Dave Black groaning, "I don't know how much I can take." You and me both, buddy. The album plods through several more takes on the same theme, with titles such as "Fall To The Gun" and "Rest Of My Life" mapping out their lyrical content pretty efficiently. Memorable hooks are not exactly in abundance, though "Otherside" comes closest; in an alternate history, one can imagine this having been a hit in the days when dinosaurs like Seven Mary Three roamed the charts - which is not to say it's a good song, only that it might have made sufficiently bland background music in beer tents and keg parties across the continent to move some units.

Year Of The White Buffalo does move beyond grunge occasionally, and the slow, bluesy "Everybody Else" shows that the band can achieve mediocrity in two genres. Credit must be given where credit is due, though: "Window Song," with its wistful lyrics asking, "Where are those days/lost in a haze," taps into a convincing mood of regret that practically begs for the staring-out-the-tour-bus-window-at-the-brisk-midwestern-morning-with-soulful-eyes video treatment. It's as clichéd and anonymous as the rest of the album, but sometimes the standard rock tropes become clichés for a reason, and the song packs an emotional punch. Other times, genres like grunge fade into pop-cultural memory because they play themselves out until every decimal point on the dial sounds like the fifty-third chorus of "Spoonman." That happened sometime around 1996, but Year of the White Buffalo apparently failed to notice.

-Whit Strub

Track listing:
1. There's a Bug in My Head
2. 4 P.J.
3. Fall to the Gun
4. Window Song
5. Sun Will Rise
6. Friends of Mine
7. Everybody Else
8. Otherside
9. Rest of My Life
10. Noche

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