In Rotation: In the Mix
At first glance, Buster Blue’s website and press materials posit Still on Conway, the Reno band’s new five-song EP, as a sort of happy travelogue of an album: “Named after a near-death experience we had while on a snowy mountain on tour last year, Still on Conway is the sound of Buster Blue on the move!”
The end of that sentence, “the sound of Buster Blue on the move!” complete with exclamation mark, is unbearably chipper. But look back at that first clause: “named after a near-death experience.” Buster Blue likes to put on a happy face, but there’s an appealing undercurrent of melancholy here.
That’s doubly true of the music, which is chock full of pleasing contradictions. It is a travel album—the music moves with the casual, daydreaming motion of a long drive through the rural West—but the first lyric on the album is “standing in an empty room.” Like the wheels of a tour van, the music spins against the way it drives (to borrow an old Melville line). It’s happy when it seems sad, and sad when it seems happy.
Genre-wise, Still on Conway is easily identifiably as Americana. The vocals are cleanly crooned. The music is led by gently strummed acoustic guitars, plucked banjos and old timey pianos. Besides a touch or two of organ, there isn’t an electronic instrument in the set. There are some excellent twists of instrumentation—the sax in “Footsteps” is great and almost funky—though a bit too low in the mix.
The best song is probably the closer, “On Your Way,” a bittersweet end-of-the-affair tune, with alternating male and female vocals. But all five songs are strong, with interesting, nuanced melodies that seem on first listen almost too subtle. But after a spin or two, the melodies emerge stronger and hookier. They sink into the brain in unpredictable ways, like some unexpected emotional reaction.
If you doubt the commonly stated dictum that vinyl records sound better than digital formats, this new seven-inch by the evolving Reno band Memory Motel provides a case-proving taste test. Listening digitally, these two songs sound tinny and thin—ethereal to the point of effervescence, like smoke dissolving in air. But find a decent record player, and drop the needle onto the colored vinyl—white with crazy strikes of pastel green, blue and black—and the sound is rich and warmly psychedelic.
For Memory Motel, as with many sonically adventurous young groups, Radiohead looms large. In the spectrum of post-Radiohead bands, A-side “Wasted Days” sounds close to Sigur Rós. “Lost Souls,” probably the better of the two songs, is more in Clinic territory. It begins with a minimal, almost bluesy guitar line, before opening up to spacier sounds—the trippy violin on the bridge is especially evocative of some sort of bliss.