Buffalo Tom – Big Red Letter Day

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

Buffalo Tom appeared on an episode of “My So-Called Life,” which is very peak-’90s. Living through the “alternative revolution” imparted a lot of lessons, none of them particularly welcome. As an initial matter, most of the mainstreaming of alternative focused on the least alternative of the options – grunge, which had much more in common with metal, hard rock, and even classic rock than it did with punk or indie (apart from the noise factor, and some of the lyrical concerns). It was hardly a leap to get kids in middle America to want loud guitars played by dudes with long hair. So right off the bat, the idea that the underground was getting its due was bullshit. This was all the more true considering that the rising tide did not lift all ships. Sure, Buffalo Tom made it onto a television show and lots of bands got their opportunity on major labels, but they were largely left to fend for themselves while promotional muscle was reserved for precious few; bands were expected to sell without being cultivated or marketed, and then ultimately cast aside. In the end, it wasn’t indie-pop or cuddlecore or dreampop or goth or janglepop that benefitted; what we got was mostly male-dominated aggressive music, of which there had not been any shortage of prior. And predictably, another consequence was the rise of acts and genre off-shoots that were modeled on but perhaps not authentically alternative; I am pretty sure we can lay the blame for nü-metal at the feet of grunge.

What I Think of This Album

Big Red Letter Day was the album where Buffalo Tom decided what kind of band they wanted to be and never really looked back. Mostly gone for good are the noisier components of their early sound, and the melodies are stronger than ever. This is a much more polished affair, lacking the raw (and sometimes overwhelming) intensity heard on Let Me Come Over, though there is still plenty of sincerity and emotion – it just goes down a lot easier.

Indeed, the angst is plenty apparent on downer “I’m Allowed,” which nonetheless achieves buoyancy, and slow burner “Would Not Be Denied,” which makes room for some backwards-looking rocking. Bassist Chris Colbourn nails it on mid-tempo “My Responsibility,” a nice, well-crafted pop song. Modest hit “Sodajerk” was deserving of the attention, all driving toms and happy chording, with Bill Janovitz’s earnest vocals leading the charge. “Tree House” approaches joyousness, with a whirlwind of drumming and a gospel choir. Similarly, Janovitz sells the energetic “Latest Monkey” with some excellent singing. “Dry Land” is sort of forgettable, but acoustic “Torch Singer” is a plaintive, warm tune. Predictably, “Late at Night” is a ballad; Colbourn’s rhymes are a bit simplistic but the band makes the best of this subpar song. Harmonies carry the gritty (relatively speaking) and soulful “Suppose.”And rounding out the album is the fine “Anything That Way,” which gradually increases in intensity and has some nice background vocals from Colbourn and some lap steel maybe? The liner notes are crap on this album.

The Best Thing About This Album

The line “these people nauseate me” from “Sodajerk” is the coolest thing.

Release Date

September, 1993

The Cover Art

Very creepy. Not sure why “tom” is not capitalized. The parentheses don’t make any sense.

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