You can’t fake family, and Ohio brothers Zachary and Andrew Gabbard are proof. Their band Buffalo Killers’ latest record Heavy Reverie is a study in the nuances of familiarity and kin, with an authenticity that’s like flipping through an old photo album. Reverie plays like an old 70s record, with Americana themes and straight guitar rock.
The instrumentals have a harder edge than the vocals on a few tracks, and the contrast mostly seems to work, but the album bounces around between different sounds, losing some of its cohesion in the process. They’ll go from Weezer-like garage rock to smoother country harmonies, to serious shredding, never really committing to one particular sound, and keeping you guessing from start to finish. Ultimately, their love for both playing and listening to music comes across as they wear their inspiration on their sleeves.
The most consistent thread woven through the record is the vivid songwriting and the storytelling. The brief and subtle steel guitar appearance on “Cousin Todd” elevates it, even amidst the gritty backstory of a family drug problem. Similarly “Sandbox” and “January” feel so personal and full of deep-seeded nostalgia, with long-winded harmonies and that signature Gabbard vocal quirk of being just the right amount of whiny and beautiful. “January” is a fantastic retro love story of cold nights and smoking joints in the backs of cars—so quintessentially American. They so successfully bring us back with them that when they sing “live for now/let the past roll on like water”, we almost don’t want to move on.
Often on Reverie, you wonder whether these guys are idealizing a past from which they can’t seem to be released. Questions about life and identity are posed in “Who You Are?”, and we’re sucked in, asking ourselves the same things. “The Girl Has Grown” delves into coming of age through the story of a young girl, likely a daughter, and that nostalgia kicks in again as her younger, simple years are remembered. But even when the songs start to feel sentimental, they show their grittier sides, confronting fucked up relationships both in love and within a family.
Buffalo Killers are at their best when they’re keeping it simple. “Shake” is purely a rock and roll song with a Jayhawks-worthy hook and a chorus that veers into Big Star territory. It’s an unforgettable tune that thrives in its basic beauty and addictive melody. “Louder than Your Lips” is a twangier version of this same sound, adding a swaggering blues guitar melody and a totally different flavor.
Lily, the same character from “The Girl Has Grown”, makes an appearance again in “Poison Berry Tide”, an imaginative, colorful song that feels a classic garage jam. “Dig On In” is a heavier thrasher with steady, but serious electric guitar shredding solos and authentic, shrill, rock and roll vocals, while “Grape Peel (How I Feel)” is another quirky, oddball tune like “Poison Berry Tide”. Elements of psych rock are incorporated, but in such a complimentary way. These trippy, jam-heavy songs feel like they could belong on a different record entirely, but they make for an interesting and endlessly entertaining change of tune.