Buffalo Tom, one of the forerunners of 90’s “college rock” is back on the street with their new album Skins. While the band’s music, especially 1994’s “hit single” “Sodajerk”, may stir some achingly awkward memories of Angela Chase and Jordan Catalano making out in the boiler room, these Boston boys have maintained a steady sound over the years that will bring you right back to the days of “alternative” music. With a nine year break between 1998’s Smitten and 2007’s Three Easy Pieces, it was easy to forget the band ever existed outside of hazy flannel clad dream. However, with their second album of new material since the return the band stakes a claim into a grandfather role in the pop rock world, simultaneously harkening back to MTV’s Buzz Bin and producing new moments to bring the past smack into the present.
Skins wears its consistency on its sleeve, nothing will throw old fans for a loop. Passionate pop rock is the name of the game and a distinct sense of comfort is heightened by the ease with which the band settles into the album’s first two tracks, “Arise, Watch” and “She’s Not Your Thing”. The latter is a prime example of the power pop perfection that Buffalo Tom is capable of. Breezy guitars careen forward and highlight the reliable Tom MaGinnis on drums. By the time “Down” rolls around a light will flashe with remembrance, the core trio doubles down on the “power” part of power pop, rocking with the best of them. Without this penchant for brightly snarling guitar solos, it is unlikely Dinosaur Jr’s J. Mascis would have produced their first two albums. With quickly strummed acoustic guitar chords serving as a sturdy base, the kinetic solos skate atop.
“Don’t Forget Me” highlights Tanya Donneley, former member of The Breeders, Belly, and Throwing Muses on co-lead vocals. By painting a pretty lullaby amidst acoustic guitar and mandolin the song re-invigorates the sincere yearning that made college rock such a revelation in response to 1980’s excess and early mopey grunge. “Guilty Girls”, another pop nugget, displays a penchant for mixing melancholy lyrics with sunny melodies. Often, Buffalo Tom will recall The Replacements with a ragged punch and jangle in their style, on “Guilty Girls” it’s accompanied by chanted vocals. “Miss Barren Books” finds another sweet spot with an incandescent hook and a filtered guitar solo that nudges some rawk into the mix.
There are some slow moments on Skins but overall the album works if you are a child of the nineties looking for some new nostalgia. As the band moves through their paces the warmth of a visiting old friend arrives. Catching up with Buffalo Tom is not a struggle; no awkward moments fill the room. You remember and fall in love again with every hook, line and sinker.