Word to modern crate diggers: the debut Phantom Buffalo album, 2002's Shishimumu, is a perfect hidden gem, a cracked sunbeam of woozy indie meandering and gently psychedelic horseplay that trickled onto UK record shelves thanks to a Rough Trade reissue before lying dormant and waiting to be explored. In its navigation between non-annoying whimsy and rattling altpop gold the Portland, Maine band coughed up both direct melodic hits and a hazy, amniotic world in which to enjoy them in. They bloom rarely, secretly: 2008's Take To The Trees was released in even quieter fashion than its predecessor, garnering close to zero interest in the doltish world.

 

They remain great though. Cement Postcard With Owl Colours initially sounds oddly restrained, as if slowly recovering from some sustained period of trauma. Finely calibrated songwriting is eventually drawn out though, helmed by two of the least rock vocalists of all time: Jonny Balzano Brookes, moon-faced, open, high and light, and Tim Burns, tentative and mumbling, an opaque teenager. it's these dreamed-out voices that meld with guitars that chime and run through gentle pedal effects, and tunes that meander through many refractive sections, some chorus shaped, some not. It takes until track five, the toylike guitar riffing and briefly major chord burst of 'Atleesta', before a classic immediacy intrudes. Up until then the thrills are slower, languid, more tangential. 'Listen To The Leaves' is the album's short intro, brittle and wide-eyed with characteristic nature wonder, which stumbles into 'Greenstar Botanical Airway', six lovely minutes of alternately cooing or twisting Seuss-like wordplay over plangent guitar lines constantly building or dropping out. It's Phantom Buffalo's great strength to make obtuse lyrics like "You are the furthest point form the darkest star / You are the black orchid photographer" feel like part of a long song.

 

It's not a perfect album. 'Ray Bradbury's Bones' is a song title that deserves more than generic Byrdsian piffle. There are a couple of forgettable songs at the LP's end section. But solidly gleaming thrills still dot the second side: 'Battle Of The Roses' marries a childlike melody to a tune both het up and melancholy, while both 'Frogman' and 'Trinket Shop' are classic PB in their hopping between disparate sections within the same song. 'Trinket Shop' in particular, with its sunny chorus line that flashes once near the beginning, then once more at the end of many minutes of stop/start wandering and maddening guitar play, contains within it more playful brilliance than most bands' dreams.

 

Despite sanding down some of their previous cranky experimentalism, Cements highly mannered world is sweet to get lost in. Despite the splintered structuring and precise guitar work the band maintain a woozy, dislocated hold on your ear. If they happen to float past you, try and hold on.

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