Plains of the Purple Buffalo

01, Journey to the Plains
02. Plains of the Purple Buffalo Part 1
03. Plains of the Purple Buffalo Part 2
04. Search For Zihuatanajo
05. Vision Quest
06. Atoll
07. Butterflies (On Luci’s Way)
08. Crown of Eagle Feathers
09. Bastien’s Angels
10. Conqueror
11. The Spirit Horse
12. Waking
13. Leaving the Plains

[7/11/11] [shelsmusic]

It’s safe to say that this album, the sophomore effort from UK (via Californaia) outfit *shels, has been a long time coming. Its predecessor, the sublime Sea of the Dying Dhow, turned four years old in June, and yet the follow up is only now being released. This isn’t due to any laziness on the band’s part though; no, Plains of the Purple Buffalo is the result of two years’ lost work, and a further two years rebuilding. Plains is the product of a lot of hard slog, a lot of heartache and hardship, and above all some very talented musicians.

Sea of the Dying Dhow was one of those albums that I loved instantly. Its lush compositions and sweeping but still-catchy passages combined the expansiveness of post-metal with the gentility of post-rock at a time when I was getting a little bored with both. Mehdi Safa’s voice is one of a kind, lending an even softer edge to the music that made the album feel incredibly positive, and the inclusion of instruments like the trumpet added a flavour not present in similar releases.

Topping it was always going to be difficult – especially with such a demoralising blow dealt to them, but they’ve handled it remarkably well. Interestingly, the album is actually based heavily on the demo recordings the band did right after the initial loss, and the honesty about them shows. This is not to say that Plains is at all lo-fi – no, just that it has a certain feeling about it, and in particular one that I’ve come to associate with *shels.

It is a very different album to its predecessor, however. Whereas Sea was bright and energetic, Plains is more measured and gigantic. Songs take a lot longer to get going, but it’s all in the name of building, and boy do *shels know how to write a crushing climax. It is in this respect that the album qualifies as heavy, and is otherwise bereft of an overabundance of crushing riffs, but don’t let that put you off. Even so, tracks like “Crown of Eagle Feathers” do more than enough to wang you in the face.

There’s also a strong Native American vibe to the proceedings; titles aside, tracks such as the superb “Vision Quest” contain tribal singing that add some fantastic flavour to the album. This showcases how remarkably delicate it is at times. As introduced on older tracks such as “Indian 2“, Mehdi Safa has a unique, soaring clean to him, and despite his ability to belt out heavy vocals like the best of them, it’s his softer side that is much more intriguing. Single “Butterflies (On Luci’s Way)” is a sweet, harmonious track, repeating the refrain “oh my love, as long as I have you, I don’t feel so bad”. Nice, no?

I’ve actually really struggled at times to write this review – you’ll note that it’s six weeks old at this point, and that’s in part down to the length. This album deserves attention, and as I’m sure you can imagine I have a lot of music to get through, but I really felt that this deserved my full attention. This does contribute to the feeling that Plains is a bit lengthy, but despite this, and my undying love for their debut, this is still a more than worthy album, and from such a lovely bunch of chaps too.

*shels’ Plains of the Purple Buffalo gets:


– CG

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