June 06, 2002

Buffalo Tom "Asides From Buffalo Tom"

There's something rather summerly about Buffalo Tom. I found this collection on sale in a used bin, and, having been enamored of one or two of their "hits" I thought it would be a great record to take on my somber, unexpected trip across Texas.

I couldn't have picked a more appropriate record.

See, Buffalo Tom were alternative-rock before the term was overused and abused by those who were simply the same old mediocre wolves in used flannel sheeps clothing. So, when listening to this record, it's a little hard not to cringe at first, not because of the music that they're making, but because of what their sound pathetically turned into. That there's no correlation between and every correlation between bands such as Buffalo Tom and stuff like The Calling and Jimmy Eat World really says a lot about Buffalo Tom's ability to make unique yet familiar music. One could essentially say, though, that it's because of artists such as Aerosmith and Elvis Costello and R.E.M. that we have Buffalo Tom, so I digress on that point.

In fact, let's forget the whole genre-fuck of alternative, and let's look at the music for a moment, okay? Buffalo Tom is a rock band. They make music, and any genre constraints that you put on them are done by your choice, and they take zilch away from the music. Like their contemporaries Dinosaur Jr., Buffalo Tom was a band possessing a simple thesis: tell a story. In that oh-so-haughty era of "alt-rock," the utterly simple concept of narrative seemed to fall from grace. Bands such as Buffalo Tom, however, seemed to fall through the cracks, and though that might not have made some people happy, it certainly didn't reflect at all on the music. Like contemporaries Velocity Girl, their talents improved over time, while the sound and the genre they were tagged quickly fell from grace, insuring that their records would be ignored.

That's the world's loss. Not Buffalo Tom's.

Really, though, how could you not enjoy the sounds of Buffalo Tom? If you like songs with a good beat, a hard, driving rhythm, and intelligent, thoughtful lyrics, then looking no further than Buffalo Tom should be the first thing you do. Period. Where R.E.M. faltered, Elvis Costello alienated, and Aerosmith bored, Buffalo Tom was there, making their music, singing their songs, the rest of the world be damned. Janovitz and company could go from soaring rock anthems like "I'm Allowed" and "Sunflower Suit" to tender, tear-jerk melodies like "Wiser" and "Postcard," without losing their hard-rocking edge, or having to pawn their sentimental, heart-felt nature.

And what songs they were, too! I challenge any artist currently making music to come up with powerful numbers such as "Rachael," "Summer," or "Sodajerk." These songs were hits for those who heard them, and were a nice-kept secret for the converted and the bored-with-the-scene post-scenesters. Bill Janovitz is a highly underrated singer-songwriter, to be sure, and I'd give anything to have written any of the eighteen songs on Asides 1988-1998. A career retrospective like Asides, though not necessarily a record for the fans, serves Buffalo Tom quite well--highlighting the songwriting skills of Bill Janovitz, whose style falls between, well, Stipe, Dylan, Costello, and Janovitz. Methinks, that at the end of the day, Buffalo Tom were simply happy to make the records that they made. It's too bad, really, that Buffalo Tom weren't allowed more of an opportunity to be heard; they were, and may still be, the last great alternative-rock band.

--Joseph Kyle

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