Graded on a Curve: Buffalo Daughter,
We Are the Times

Formed in Japan in 1993, Buffalo Daughter made a modest splash in that decade’s sizable pond, releasing a pair of albums on the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal label. Unlike many of their indie scene contemporaries, the group persevered well into the 21st century, though We Are the Times is their first album in seven years. It’s a solid extension of their techno-infused, post-rock-inclined sound, available through the Buffalo Ranch and Anniversary labels, with one exception; Musicmine is releasing a CD, but only in Japan, on September 17. The digital is available everywhere the same day, with the vinyl to follow on October 15.

Although they began as a four-piece, Buffalo Daughter has long been the trio of suGar Yoshinaga (guitar, vocals, TB-303, and more), Yumiko Ohno (bass, vocals, electronics, and more), and moOog Yamamoto (turntables, vocals, and more). As on previous records, We Are the Times brings in numerous guests, often with drumsticks in hand, to fill out the sound.

I’ll confess to losing track of Buffalo Daughter well over 15 years ago. My prior experience included hearing and digging their two albums for Grand Royal, 1996’s Captain Vapour Athletes (a compilation of two earlier releases on the Cardinal label) and ’98’s New Rock. I also caught up with I, which came out in 2001 via Emperor Norton (as Grand Royal ceased operations that year).

But I’ve yet to get acquainted with their two releases for the V2 imprint, 2003’s Pshychic and ‘06’s Euphorica, nor have I heard the two that followed, ’10’s Weapons of Math Destruction (listed on Buffalo Daughter’s website as issued on the band’s own Buffalo Ranch label, though the Japanese company AWDR/LR2 seems to have been involved, as well) and ’14’s Konjac-Tion (on U/M/A/A through Buffalo Ranch, their imprint also putting out vinyl editions of Pshychic and Euphorica in 2019).

That We Are the Times took seven years to emerge was only exacerbated by…well, you know. “Music,” the set’s brief opening track, directly references the reason why with a lyric expressing how “music is the vitamin to live under/too much pressure in quarantine.” This phrase gets delivered right at the start as an a cappella greeting, the voices lush, its manner suggesting an old-school radio station bumper.

It ushers in a dose of electro-disco that’s shortness would be frustrating if it weren’t immediately followed by a considerably longer slice (at over six times the length) of the same sorta thing. They do it well, injecting enough weirdness and sheer musicality into the mix to effectively differentiate their approach from typical dance punk action, the kind of stuff that proliferated a couple decades back.

The next track is “Global Warming Kills Us All.” I thoroughly agree with the titular statement and am further chuffed that the cut legitimately engages with the sentiment rather than just grafts the title onto a tune that has fuck-all to do with anything except ass-shaking. For starters, there’s a voice mechanically repeating the song’s title (enhanced by a vocoder), plus additional lyrics in Japanese, with the vocals productively mingling with the quirked, blown-out quality of the instrumentation.

The track illuminates Buffalo Daughter’s more experimental side, though there’s also a melodic interlude, sweet and brief. But in “Don’t Punk Out,” they swing back into aggressive groove motion with a sound that fans of Konk, ESG, Liquid Liquid and maybe even the Y Records roster should find to their liking. I especially enjoy the vocal interjection by (I’m assuming) moOog Yamamoto that reminds me of a groggy yet distressed David Byrne.

While surely danceable, “Loop” is dominated by strangeness, featuring an uh, loop of low-toned, rubbery electronics, a spike of horns mid-way through the track, and in the latter portion, a stretch of ruggedly hard-rocking guitar and drumming, courtesy of Hideo Yamaki (who’s played with John Zorn, Toshinori Kondo, and Bill Frisell) that’s downright spastic.

This might seem like a formidable affair, but as said, one can easily gyrate to it. The same cannot reasonably be said for “ET (Densha),” which in its first half is slow and thudding, and in its second, after a train goes by, raises a ruckus that teeters into cacophony. I’m in total support of this maneuvering, partly for how it counterbalances Buffalo Daughter’s accessible side, but more so because the excursion is ultimately quite methodical.

“Jazz” isn’t jazzy but rather art-poppy, and in a way that can inspire thoughts of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Haruomi Hosono, though I honestly thought more of Os Mutantes. In a concise timeframe, instrumental “Serendipity (Tsubo)” offers an assortment of sound layers with minimal keyboard plinking as the anchor, the whole serving as a penultimate prelude to one more groove, this one decidedly tinged with retro synth.

The discombobulation in the midsection of closer “Everything Valley,” complete with a backward masked vocal effect (reminiscent of The Arm in Twin Peaks) might prove frustrating to dancers, but its oddness sounds pretty swank while sitting down. The way the track comes apart and then gets quickly reassembled emphasizes the breadth of We Are the Times and reinforces the enduring creative vigor of Buffalo Daughter, who, after over 25 years of existence, are still pushing boundaries. They sound as fresh as ever.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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