REVIEW – *shels – Plains Of The Purple Buffalo
Album: Plains Of The Purple Buffalo
Some bands create albums, other bands create journeys. British/American post-rock/metal project *shels have released one of the latter in the form of Plains Of The Purple Buffalo, a wondrous blend of light and heavy which flows so naturally that the lengthy running time is barely noticed. Blending elements of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Ros and Ennio Morricone, the album is akin to a post-influenced film score, and completely captivating to hear.
The opener, much like many of the songs, begins with a simple acoustic riff, but soon a grand entrance unfolds, with a walking bassline and Harriman’s crashing drums providing a floor for floating guitar melodies and ethereal Jònsi-esque vocals, before a prominent saxophone lead carries the song further. Either with headphones or a full stereo system, the whole album is a fully immersive experience, the production allowing breathing room for each instrument. The songs rarely stray above mid-tempo, suited to the style of music, but transition so smoothly between ambient or folky passages to crushing post-metal. Such a change can be heard in “Searching For Zihuatanejo”, a possible reference to The Shawshank Redemption.
The vocals themselves are used in a less conventional fashion, more as another instrument than to dominate the music. Safa has an impressive range, from a choral falsetto high to a mid-range reminiscent of the calmer oldschool Jimmy Eat World. Conversely, there are also some harsh screams, vaguely Cult Of Luna-like, which intensify the heavier sections such as on “Crown Of Eagle Feathers”. Lyrics are few and far between, or difficult to hear properly. One of the few audible sections, in “Butterflies On Luci’s Way”, is a repetition of “And oh my love, as long as I have you, I don’t feel so bad” and “Oh my love, the moments I’ve had, I don’t have you”. Personally, I find the choral and wordless passages more enjoyable, even if lyrics help anchor some of the more memorable songs.
Although on paper *shels’ formula doesn’t change much, each song on Plains Of The Purple Buffalo has a unique reworking of this formula, or an added element, such as the tinkling piano in “The Spirit Horse” or Agalloch-like distortion in “Leaving The Plains”. The brass and strings sections are also an integral part of the sound, either leading or enhancing areas of the album in a cinematic fashion, helped on occasion by numerous layers of synth. Despite all of these instruments, at no point does the album feel too crowded; instead everything is sprawled over an hour and a quarter as a full progressive journey.
All in all, *shels’ sophomore is honestly jaw-dropping, and will be sure to make my Top 10 albums of this year. Anyone with an interest in cinematic albums, post-rock or journey-like albums would do well to check this out (it’s available cheaply from the store http://shelsmusic.com/label/store.php), and those that are unsure should at least listen to the track provided. I cannot recommend Plains Of The Purple Buffalo enough.
Song to try:
Not all musicians have been named in this review, because I cannot find where they are credited. Safa explained in an interview: “The whole point of *shels is that it is very free, it is not really a band in the traditional sense, we can have people from other bands come in and play certain shows. It is set up to be a very free vehicle. There is a core of who is involved, but you can compare it to The John Williams Orchestra. It has a core but the line-up changes around that core.”