It’s 8:17 P.M. on a Sunday as I write this. I’m just now emerging out of this weekend’s dreamlike haze that has consumed me for the past 48 hours. My beer-can castle is slowly being deconstructed. The sulfuric smell on my clothes from the firework residue is currently being washed away along with whatever spills remained on my clothes. Tomorrow I return back to being a make-believe productive member of society, where my empty husk will put on a week-long stage production of “Bill at work”. But, for the next 55 minutes, I will remain in my euphoric state with the help of Phantom Buffalo’s Cement Postcard With Owl Colours.
Phantom Buffalo (formerly The Ponys) has been one of Portland, Maine’s longest tenured indie-rock bands. Since 1998, the band has gone from playing basement shows and art schools, to being invited to SXSW and playing shows alongside the likes of Elf Power and the Microphones. The band’s third full-length release, Cement Postcard With Owl Colours, is a vast release providing almost an hour of profound and comprehensive auditory experience. The opening two tracks, “Listen to the Leaves” and “Greenstar Botanical Airway”, blend seamlessly into one another. Lead singer Jonathan Balzano-Brookes’ voice has a trancelike, falsetto quality about them that reminds me a lot of Chad VanGaalen. His chanting melds perfectly with the chime-like guitar creating a surreal, illusory environment.
“Greenstar” is a slow burn that pays off at the end with reverberating guitar and whipping percussion, ending with Brookes singing “You are the furthest point from the darkest star; you are the black orchid photographer.” Many of Phantom Buffalo’s songs seem like they could be several songs, each with their best parts dissected out and then constructed into magnificent harmoniousness. Songs like “I Bring the Sun and the Nightmares” and “Frogman” could be broken down into four or five separate songs, but their beauty resides in the way the structures and melodies blend effortlessly into one another to create five minute anthems of a sunny, summer afternoon laying in the Eastern Promenade. There are numerous instruments thrown in throughout the album including synth, piano and even accordion which really help to add depth and power to an already tight arrangement of songs.
Guitarist Tim Burns adds his vocals to a few songs including “Battle of the Roses” and “Bad Disease”. His vocals are on part with Balzano-Brookes’ dream-inducing tone, but offer a more wavering Neil Young-esque (Harvest era Young) tone to them. “Bad Disease” is one of the most structurally sound and complex songs on the album. Tempo changes, ebbing and flowing percussion and wistful guitar strumming make up six minutes of auditory bliss that you can get lost in for what seems like hours. The album ends with “Radio Signal”, one of the rockier songs from Phantom Buffalo. Throughout the song, I kept imagining it distorted with someone like Ozzy or Rob Halford crooning the lyrics. It only seemed to make the song even more enjoyable than it already was when I imagined this 1980’s dream scenario.
It’s now 12:26 A.M. I’ve been taking breaks to work on Star Wars Mad Libs. The effects of my coffee are wearing off, leading me further and further into a comatose state. I keep thinking about how Cement Postcards with Owl Colours is an album of epic indie-pop ballads, and wonder if there will ever be a late-night infomercial trying to sell “INDIE-POP POWER BALLADS VOLUME 5”. I imagine sitting on my couch at 3:49 in the morning watching the scrolling text, offering up bands like Phantom Buffalo, Songs Ohia and Shearwater. Supplies are limited, so order now. Operators are standing by.