reviewed by Michael Thomas
There are few things in music I love more than bands who continually push their sounds toward something weirder and more fearless. Two albums ago, Ghostkeeper added hints of creepiness into a folk and roots base, and Horse Chief! War Thief! started to break that up with some help from Ian Jarvis and others, mixing in drone influences, among others. Sheer Blouse Buffalo Knocks is the band at its most fearless.
A while back it seemed (at least to me) that the band was splitting up, with Shane Ghostkeeper becoming Buffalo Knocks and Sarah House becoming Sheer Blouse. Each act had a distinct sound, and it turns out that these two act names are actually characters who anchor this new album. The Buffalo Knocks songs are aggressive as hell, but in different ways, while the Sheer Blouse songs are more sombre and haunted.
Together, they make for a hell of a ride. The songs alternate between those of the Buffalo Knocks and Sheer Blouse characters, starting with “Dandelion.” Shane Ghostkeeper has been playing this song for years, and it’s a pleasure to hear it put on record. The woozy guitar is still a bone in the song’s body, but screechy sounds and some steady, strong percussion make the body whole. Contrast that with “Oceans,” which features huge electronic beats and seems to take some cues from hip-hop. It’s this back-and-forth that will keep listeners on their toes.
Besides the two characters, the album is also anchored geographically to Alberta’s Chinchaga River, which is first mentioned in the bassy “EEE” before becoming the namesake of the beautiful final song of the album. That river seems both an object of nostalgia and a final destination—though it’s not named in “Little People,” Houle sings about walking by the river’s edge, before the song takes an abrupt turn into total despair with the line “There’s a rock that I carry when I walk on the bottom of the river.”
As with previous albums, Shane Ghostkeeper has a few lines that are laced with flippancy but show the way Canada’s aboriginals are thought of and portrayed: in the super-creepy “People of the Pines,” he repeats “There’s no pleasure like golfing on Indian bones” and in the blazing “Muskeekee,” a song with never-ending energy, he repeats “At least you got your language and you speak it to your kids/At least you got your kids and they speak your language.” Both lines are a knife twisted slowly in the gut.
Only “Cold Hands” retreats a bit too much into a fog of electronics and reverb to be memorable, but overall the 10 songs are a nice study in contrast while also adhering to Ghostkeeper’s generally weird vibe. This band will never not be endlessly fascinating.
Top Tracks: “Dandelion”; “People of the Pines”; “Chinchaga River”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good) *swoop*