On the twentieth anniversary of his first release evergreen Americana artist The White Buffalo returns with his eighth full-length album. As befits such a milestone, the artist also known as Jake Smith has pulled out all the stops to produce a record that grapples with life’s biggest questions. Year Of The Dark Horse is an album of Nietzschean proportions, and one that’ll hold your rapt attention from first note to the last.
Although concept records get a bad rap, (mainly because of convoluted double albums released by progressive rock acts) when they’re executed right, they can convey a message that’s hard to condense into a three-minute song. With its themes and motifs echoing throughout, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On is a good example of a concept album flowing smoothly, and Year Of The Dark Horse works in a similar manner. The tale it tells is indistinct enough for the listener to infer their own meaning, yet sure enough for the album to work as a cohesive whole. With the songs bleeding into each other, this is a record best consumed in one sitting, and while it’s perfectly feasible to dip in and out (and ‘Not Today’ made a great lead single) it’s advisable to let the undercurrent pull you along.
A bold opener which reaches out from the speakers to grab you by the lapels and gives a good shake, ‘Not today’ swirls like a storm in a snow globe and fractures sound in every direction. It’s a cinematic affair that will plant vivid in your mind; it’s the musical equivalent of a Casper David Friedrich painting with a lone figure in the wilderness pondering existential questions. This is an earthy album that wraps itself up in nature’s hues, and as with the changing of the seasons, this is an album in constant evolution, and after the swirling introduction, ‘Winter Act 2’ gallops with a gentle gait, and it testament to White Buffalo’s power that these two cuts nestle together in harmony. Like Kurt Weill collaborating with Nick Cave (after imbibing LSD) ‘She Don’t Know I Lie’ is the sound of an eerie carnival, and its refrain will haunt you long after the disc’s stopped spinning.
The White Buffalo has cited Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen as major influences, and you can definitely hear them seeping through on this record, but not in an obvious manner. Like those songsmiths there’s a lot going on beneath the surface, as with a David Lynch film if you lift the thin veneer of suburbia, you’ll find something unsettling beneath and that’s just the vibe brought to tracks such as ‘Heart Attack’ and ‘52 Card Pickup’. As this album explores a shifting relationship within changing seasons, the lyricism adds a depth which makes the characters who inhabit the songs living, breathing, three-dimensional beings. The penultimate ‘Donna’ is an upbeat number that jars well with thoughtful, downbeat closer ‘Life Goes On’, and it’s a juxtaposition that works rather well and brings the album to a grandiose conclusion.
With the release of this album, 2022 will not only be the Year Of The Dark Horse but also the year of The White Buffalo.
- Reviewed by Peter Dennis.
- Year Of The Dark Horse is released via Snakefarm Records on 11th November 2022 from here.
- Official Website
- Not Today
- Winter Act 2
- Kingdom For A Fool
- Love Will Never Come/Spring’s Song
- She Don’t Know That I Lie
- C’mon Come Up Come Out
- Love Song #3
- Heart Attack
- Am I Still A Child
- 52 Card Pickup
- Donna Life Goes On