King Buffalo – The Burden of Restlessness Review

As a web developer, short release cycles are second nature. We iterate over our code, and ideally, every cycle it comes out a little better, a little more complete. When it comes to albums, on the other hand, short release cycles make me wary. Genius takes time, as the idiom goes, and though there’s certainly been genius albums scratched out in a hurry and turds that baked for decades, it seems to hold up in a general sort of way. Now New York stoner trio King Buffalo has decided to release three albums in the span of a year, while immediate predecessor Dead Star1 is but a year old. The gorgeous album art for the first of the hat-trick only assuages my fears a small amount. Is The Burden of Restlessness rushed? Does it drag?

Neither. Instead, King Buffalo plays exactly the tempo it intended. The pandemic seems to have had a two-fold effect on vocalist/guitarist Sean McVay, bassist Dan Reynolds and drummer Scott Donaldson. It has given them a lot of inspiration for new material, and it has given them the time to fully develop it. The result, The Burden of Restlessness, is truly an album of its time, painting pictures of a seemingly endless period spent indoors, staring at the walls while sanity slowly flakes away. Many of the shades of grey used to paint this distressing picture will be recognizable, from lethargic philosophising on the nature of a silverfish on the wall to off-hand suicidal ideation.

The atmosphere accompanying these statements, at the appropriate turns frustrated and despondent, is established through performances that are extremely effective in their simplicity. The songwriting is boiled down to a few strong, stripped down riffs that are repeated in hypnotic patterns, expanded on and modulated with increasing intensity and varying degrees of crusty distortion. McVay’s vocal performance demonstrates perfectly how well acquainted he is with the subject matter by avoiding overly dramatic theatricality, instead adopting a deliberately deadened cadence that nears sprechsgesang, conveying the muted emotional response and lethargy that isolation-induced depression causes. Every now and then, the frustration at his situation boils to the surface, such as in opener “Burning” where he decries ’another year lost in the wasteland / another day drowned to dust’ with an appropriately emotional, punk-adjacent delivery.

Yet the apparent simplicity of the music belies the complexity of its details beneath the surface. The tippy-tapping bass interplaying with the shuffling drums throughout “Locusts.” The tiny 1-2 pricks of distortion that make up the main riff of “Silverfish” and how it weaves into the crushing grime that pervades the second half. The small doses of synths injected into the quiet that evoke psychological horror in preparation for the looming mudslide. Even if you are unable to appreciate an album without a killer solo, closer “Loam” has you covered with an extended bit of high-quality guitar wizardry. And all this cleverness and focus in both instruments and vocals is all the easier to appreciate for the practically flawless production, which is crisp and crystal clear, except when it leans on the distortion panel which brings forth the perfectly crackling guitar tone. Combine this with a mix that gives the bass equal footing with the guitars to make their partnership that much more obvious and you have an absolute slobberknocker of an album.

On the surface, The Burden of Restlessness is a fairly straightforward affair. I was a bit confused by the stoic vocals, but immediately took a liking to the entrancing riffs, the excellent use of the bass, the ominous atmosphere covering the music like a moldy shroud. But the longer I listen to it, the more it impresses beyond even this. Every detail of the music builds upon its central theme, upon both the lethargy and the frustration. The dynamic approach to songwriting knows exactly how the guitar, bass and drums can enhance one another beyond merely playing at the same time. If I have to come up with any flaws, it would be its rather sudden ending, but that just feels like an excuse to play it again, or perhaps follow it up with album number 2 in a few months. Because if King Buffalo can make another one that’s this much of a clever, insidious little grower, I will be sure not to miss it. And neither should you.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: EU: Stickman Records | NA: Self-released
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: June 4th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. Which was officially an EP, but at 36 minutes it might as well be a full-length.
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