The Phoenix Foundation - Buffalo

by Steve Rhodes Rating:7 Release Date:2011-01-24

New Zealand has been a hotbed of music over the decades, much of which has escaped to the ears of these shores, from the trebly guitars of Flying Nun artists and The Dunedin Sound, through the pop of OMC and Bic Runga, to the garage of The Datsuns, The D4 and The Brunettes. Wellington band The Phoenix Foundation have been releasing fine records in their home country since 2003 and Buffalo is the first full album release in the UK

Opener 'Everywhere' could be a great commercial for their homeland. A song where you can imagine sitting on a deserted windswept beach, just taking in the natural surroundings around you. Full of atmosphere and gliding guitar, it is laid-back to the point of comatose, but without being boring. 'Bailey's Beach' shares the opener's DNA, taking a more acoustic approach. It won't get your heartbeat racing or encourage any motion, but it is perfect to listen to while sat in slumber. A whole album of this would be too much, so thankfully the pace increases with new single 'Buffalo', full of driving but mellow repetitive riffs over the top of subtle synths. The lyric "I am a Buffalo, through the ocean I do roll" contributes to the laid-back nature of the band.

'Flock of Hearts' possesses the more traditional Phoenix Foundation sound and they build upon it for the rest of the album. Acoustic guitars and barely sung vocals lead the way, with the pace hardly breaking sweat. The sound is pastoral and dreamy but they add elements of playfulness with xylophone and a brief interlude which sounds like a 70s guitar being fed through a toy amp.

A subtle use of 80s keys is evident in 'Skeleton', which lives up to its title. Using, reverbed guitar which sounds like the most restrained use of the minor keys of the Fairlight synth and a spooky atmosphere in the interlude, it is a far darker and woozier song, like Mercury Rev meets Wild Beasts, without the theatrics. 'Wonton' borrows its 80s synth direct from Yazoo, a nice and mildly driving, atmospheric song, that again exercises restraint. Only on closer 'Golden Ship' is there a threat of being epic, with the melody building from a quiet acoustic start to a delightfully fuzzy ending, with a gorgeous higher pitched vocal over the top.

There are some big misses on the album, particularly in some of the lyrics: "It takes two to tango, like an orange and a mango" on the dreadful XTC meets Modern Romance 'Orange & Mango', and, "All the punks out on the corner, what's that look on their faces" on 'Bitte Bitte', a disappointing song about nothing that tries to be Belle & Sebastian covering Bruce Springsteen, are cases in point. It's a shame too that 'Pot' was released as the lead single as, though it is summery, it is painfully dull, leaning towards Mumford & Sons and 'Weather With You' era-Crowded House.

Perfect for a lazy day, Buffalo is a nice introduction for UK audiences to The Phoenix Foundation. It is a progression on their earlier albums but shares the same laid-back nature. Though some may wish for the band to take off the restraints once in a while, I doubt it would suit them.

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