Buffalo Daughter

I

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Though Buffalo Daughter's previous albums balanced pop and experimentation artfully, the group makes its first real misstep with I, its third album and Emperor Norton debut. Actually, calling the album a misstep might be putting it too strongly -- there's plenty to recommend it, including the darkly dreamy opener "Ivory," which, with its ethereal harmonies, twining guitars and sleek beats, recalls the group's work with Takako Minekawa; "Five Minutes," a mix of sparse, spooky beats and sweet yet menacing vocals, exudes Blade Runner-esque sexiness; and "Discothèque du Paradis," which could almost be mistaken for a J-Pop parody if not for its airy artlessness. However, there's also enough wrong with I to make it a frustrating listen even for Buffalo Daughter fans. The main problem is that the group tries so hard to be clever and cutting-edge that it detracts from the album's strengths. Songs like "I Know," which sets samples of people saying "I know!" to synth bleeps and arty string arrangements, and the strangely theatrical, metal-influenced "Earth Punk Rockers," feature interesting elements that never quite jell into something listenable. The almost-catchy "Volcanic Girl," "A Completely Identical Dream" and the lackluster bossa nova of "Moog Stone" and "Mirror Ball" reach for the poppy, playful heights Buffalo Daughter scaled on Captain Vapour Athletes, and (especially) New Rock, but fall short. Even more frustrating is that since their previous label Grand Royal's demise, Buffalo Daughter's best albums are much more difficult to come by, making I both a disappointment and the easiest way to hear this fascinating, always-challenging (but, unfortunately, not always successful) group. [The CD was also released with a bonus track.]

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