Side projects can be a tricky business. When it comes to music, an artist’s side project often comes nowhere close to the artistic quality than his original ventures; but it is often crucial for an artist to get some ideas off his chest. The artist who chooses to share this “artistic vomit” (as our reviewee put it) is indeed a courageous person because such a release adds a new layer of vulnerability and transparency to the artist.
In some ways, Buffalo Souls by Dan Snyder (of W\A\M favorite Paper Lights) falls into the pattern of stereotypical side projects. But in other ways, it surpasses expectations and delivers emotion and spirit that rivals Dan’s main project (which still holds top spot for the best album I’ve listened to this year).
Most of Buffalo Souls is instrumental, with the opening two tracks being the only tracks with something reminiscent of a traditional song structure. Vocals and lyrics show up in other places, but this release works best in the background. Some tracks channel the post-dreampop of We Are Arrows, while others take a more cinematic approach (which makes sense, because some of these tracks were initially created for licensing purposes). Piano and thundering drums make a comfortable home in most tracks, though the release as a whole has a mellow feel.
Opener “Beneath Our Veins” doesn’t really get going until hallway into the track, but the song still is an enjoyable listen with its string-like synths and hopeful lyrics.
“Chasing the Tall One” opens with a delicate piano riff that transitions into the most electronic part of the release. Lyrically (and musically, in a sense), the song reminds me of “Midnight” by Coldplay (though the vocals are less distorted here).
“Jackson Lake” opens with a mysterious and brooding atmosphere that soon gives way to a rising piece propelled by pounding percussion. The Asian-sounding string arrangement that surfaces a few times in the track adds some uniqueness to the familiar tune.
Having lived in western Washington my whole life, the song “Mt. Rainier” immediately brings to mind images of our few sunny days when the mountain not obscured by our ubiquitous cloud cover. Very triumphant and accessible, though perhaps not the most striking.
“So Close” hearkens back to Paper Lights’ self-titled debut, whereas the accompanying track “The Herd” recalls some of the sounds from Caverns. “So Close” is the album’s weakest point on its own, but it proves to be a worthy addition when paired with “The Herd.”
“John Muir” channels influence from Jónsi, using bells and glockenspiel, reversed audio tracks, and swaying string compositions as the foundation for a simple melody.
“Getting Started” gives the album a nice, calm finish. This song also sounds similar to Jónsi, but it incorporates some other musical textures from the rest of the release. This track is a standout, along with “Jackson Lake” and …
Okay, with the exception of “So Close” and minute facets of “Mt. Rainier,” every track here is a standout. Buffalo Souls is an exceptionally strong release, and, while it doesn’t quite live up to Dan’s latest release with Paper Lights, it still is well-worth a download. The music carries inspiration and emotion, and it will take the listener on a journey if he is willing. Definitely give this album a listen.