The word “Perfect” doesn’t come up very much in conversations about art. Art is subjective. Art is personal. Art isn’t experienced in the exact same way by any two people. So to say something in the art world is absolutely “perfect” is hopelessly naive.
And yet, there are certain yard sticks we can use in any art form to measure different levels of perfection. In painting, we may examine a painter’s use of lights and darks to judge his understanding of light sources. In literature, we could rate a writer based on her word economy. In music, we may judge a rapper’s ability to stay on rhythm.
Still, it’s a slippery slope. Art is emotional, so any statement of fact is quickly critiqued by counter arguments or, even worse, opposing emotions.
Today, we will be bold. There are two Stoner Rock-influenced albums from the 2010s that we can’t stop listening to, and we believe each of them to be nearly perfect in their own way. They’re artistic, they’re emotive, they’re deep, and, most importantly, they rock.
In no specific order of quality, they are:
- 2012’s Yellow & Green by Baroness (Relapse Records)
- 2015’s Living Ghosts by We Hunt Buffalo (Small Stone Records)
Here’s why we love them.
Living Ghosts by We Hunt Buffalo
About the Record:
- Tracks: 9
- Length: 38 minutes
- Singles: None
- Released: September 25, 2015
- Ryan Forsythe: vocals, guitar
- Brendan Simpson: vocals, bass
- Brandon Carter: drums
- Jesse Gander: organ and synth
About the Band: Canada has gifted the world a long list of talented musicians: Alex Lifeson, Neil Young, Alanis Morrisette. But don’t forget about Vancouver’s We Hunt Buffalo. The band’s name comes from a simple question between bandmates: “What’s the most Metal thing you can think of?” We Hunt Buffalo is 10 years in the making (they were formed in 2009), but their greatest work to date came to us in 2015 in the form of Living Ghosts—an album marked with Stoner, Doom, Psychedelia, and a dash of Metal.
Why the Album’s Nearly Perfect: Clocking in at 38 minutes, Living Ghosts is as short as any Weezer album. But while Weezer was busy crafting pop hits, We Hunt Buffalo was focused on writing art. Living Ghosts is a concept album of sorts, but the loose concept—rebuilding after destruction—helps propel the songwriting forward.
Living Ghosts doesn’t come out of the gate in a rage like many other albums of the Stoner-Doom-Prog Rock hybrid. Instead, the album opens in a shroud of mystery with “Ranarök”—an appropriate name for the beginning of an album that feels like the end times are upon us. “Ranarök” gradually delivers layers upon layers of guitaring, serving up a cosmic slab of Stoner Rock before thundering into “Back to the River.”
“Back to the River” is We Hunt Buffalo at their best: deeply emotional, endlessly cinematic, and committed to the groove. We Hunt Buffalo isn’t afraid to layer their haunting vocals, and the voices call into an ageless void as the song reaches its crescendo around the 3:15 mark.
The end of “Back to the River” trails into silence, but the album erupts back into action with “Prairie Oyster,” a feast of hard-driving fuzz. The track also shows the band’s vocal range, layering melodic voices with scratchy screamo—an approach that helps to make “Prairie Oyster” one of the most emotive tracks on the record.
If our assessment is correct—that Living Ghosts is a concept album about continuing life after the end of the world as we know it—”Hold On” echoes into the void left by the purpose and structure of the world as we formerly knew it. “Hold On” gradually builds, pulling out of the void to establish its on auditory soundscape, launching into guitar work on the same level as the tracks before it.
Track number five, the very middle of the album, is “Comatose.” Marked by the same ethereal guitar work present throughout the album, “Comatose” opens with uncertainty: “I must be sleeping…” By this point, we’ve already been completely immersed in Living Ghosts, but with this opening line, we’re sucked deeper down the rabbit hole. There is mystery afoot, and we may only uncover it in the dreamworld.
“Prairie Oyster” gave us the first taste of screams on this album, and “Fear” gives us our second helping—but not at first. “Fear” features some of We Hunt Buffalo’s best guitar work to date, with a beautiful solo that spans nearly the first minute of the song. Thirty short seconds later, we enter the chorus, a haunting, terrifying section punctuated by the screamed vocals, “Try and save yourself.” Eviseral and unsettling under the pulsing bass line, you hardly have time to collect yourself before the song rides again on the same riff from the opening. From a technical standpoint, “Fear” may be the best track on the album, if not the most compelling.
Coming immediately after “Fear,” “The Barrens” should sound familiar. It’s structure in the first two minutes is nearly identical: a riff, a solo, a verse, a chorus. Although the song rises in the chorus, it never comes back down, and this gives us a direct deviation from “Fear.” But before we get there, we should also reflect on the lyrics. If “Fear” is an examination of terror, “The Barrens” is the process of acknowledging that emotion and finally letting it go so that one can move on.
If you’ve enjoyed the album so far, “Looking Glass” has something for everyone. The pained vocals appear from the void, “All the world is living ghosts / Waiting our turn to fly”—delivering a line that gives us the album’s title. Musically, the song is a mix of soft and heavy, delivering that atmospheric isolation that’s present throughout the rest of the album. And although the album begins with destruction (“Ranarök”), “Looking Glass” ends with hope:
I will paint with coloured strokes
A world that’s no longer blind
There’s so much more
The roads will pass
This will be so small
Through the looking glass
After a dramatic solo, the song cools off and leads us into the final track: “Walk Again.” “Walk Again” is by far the calmest song on the album, offering a much-needed palate cleanser after half an hour of doom, fear, and sorrow. In that way, “Walk Again” works to contrast the opener, “Ranarök.” Yes, the world may have ended, but we still have Rock ‘n’ Roll. It’s going to alright.
All in all, Living Ghosts is thoughtfully crafted from beginning to end, and each song fits among all the others to tell a cohesive narrative. Thanks to the band’s intense musical chops and fine instrumentation, Living Ghosts has won a spot as one of the best Stoner Rock albums of the last decade.
Yellow and Green by Baroness
About the Record:
- Tracks: 18
- Length: 75 minutes
- Take My Bones Away (released May 14, 2012)
- March to the Sea (released June 13, 2012)
- Eula (released June 18, 2012)
- Released: July 17, 2012
- Label: Relapse Records
- John Dyer Baizley: lead vocals, rhythm guitar, bass, keyboards
- Pete Adams: lead guitar, backing vocals
- Allen Bickle: drums
About the Band: Although the band is from Savannah, Georgia, the original members grew up together in the small town of Lexington, Virginia. Until the release of Yellow & Green in 2012, Baroness was mostly a Heavy Metal act. Their first three EPs, First, Second, and A Grey Sigh In a Flower Husk (a split with Unpersons), were relentlessly heavy, delving into Thrash Metal and Prog Rock. By the time they released The Red Album in 2007, the band was ready to swap some of the aggression for melody, especially in the guitars and vocals, and “Cockroach En Fleur” showed the band was even willing to go acoustic. Though the Blue Record was just as ferocious as The Album, it showed it was even more willing to experiment with acoustics guitars, and “Blackpowder Orchard” even showed elements of whimsy. When the band entered the studio again in preparation for Yellow & Green, the roughest parts of their sound were smoothed out. They were ready for something accessible for the Stoner Rock crowd.
Why the Album’s Nearly Perfect: Double albums have a tendency to drag on. Look at Pink Floyd’s The Wall or the Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Both of these are incredible albums, but one of the greatest critiques they’ve both suffered from is the simple fact that some songs never should have made it onto the list. Both albums could be improved by chopping a handful of the list.
This isn’t a problem with Baroness’s Yellow & Green. Each disc opens with a theme (“Yellow Theme” and “Green Theme”), and this gets the listener ready for the journey they’re about to go on. “Yellow Theme” is quiet and pensive, pregnant with some sort of impending emotion—unclear whether it will be rage or joy.
“Yellow Theme” fades into the album’s first single, “Take My Bones Away.” If “Yellow Theme” is gentle and unsure, “Take My Bones Away” is frantically aggressive and rooted in its self-assuredness. The track features pristine, swirling guitar work and John Dyer Baizley’s signature haunting vocals.
Thus goes the album. Each song is a gem, intricately written without a wasted riff or drumbeat. Like Living Ghosts, Yellow & Green establishes its own living universe, delivering a plain that is both unnerving and captivating.
Like Disc One, Disc Two opens with a theme—”Green Theme.” What starts slow with shimmering guitars and drums blasts into a sea of fuzz and ringing guitars, eventually settling back into the shimmer before bleeding into “Board Up the House.”
If the Yellow side of Yellow & Green is heavier on the metal, the Green side is heavier on the emotion.
The bass line in “Foolsong” feels like a heartbeat, and the guitars sound like a lullaby, pulling up feelings of childhood—until the guitar solo cuts loose.
Entirely instrumental, “Stretchmarker” is an acoustic-heavy delight where the strings seem to dance and breathe all on their own.
The guitars and murmurs in “Psalms Alive” calls back late nights in quarter arcades—until the band moves in at full force by the 2-minute mark.
Yellow & Green is full of surprises, but what is most stunning is the bands ability to maintain a consistent tone across 18 tracks—without ever growing boring or meandering down a long, tedious passageway. In short, Yellow & Green is 75 minutes of Stoner Rock delight.