THREE EASY PIECES If there’s a “statement” being made on Skins, maybe it’s as simple as, “We still fucking got it.”
"If you'd told me 10 years ago I'd be here playing with Buffalo Tom, I wouldn't have believed you," Mean Creek's Aurore Ounjian sheepishly offered up last week at ZuZu, moments before her band closed out a stripped-down, five-song set with a cover of Buffalo Tom's "Would Not Be Denied."
A half-hour later, as a plugged-in Buffalo Tom are nestled tightly into a corner of the intimate Central Square lounge, Bill Janovitz thanks Mean Creek for their support and makes a playful admission of his own: "Ten years ago, I was 34. If you'd told me then I'd be playing in Buffalo Tom . . . "
Janovitz's voice fades under the gentle laughter and applause in the room from a crowd gathering for the release party for Skins, Buffalo Tom's bold eighth studio album, out this week on the band's own Scrawny Records imprint. It marks the 25th year of a band who've kept the same line-up since 1986: Janovitz on guitar, sharing vocal duties with bassist Chris Colbourn, and Tom Maginnis on drums. They remain an alternative-rock treasure in a city mindful of its past and forever fixated on its future.
Buffalo Tom's musical kinship with Mean Creek, the blossoming Boston rock quartet Janovitz discovered at the Iron Horse in Northampton three years ago, runs deep, and the two bands will share three East Coast Skins dates next month. If that's a passing of the musical torch, then the connection is essential in defining the sound of Boston, spanning generations.
"There is a Boston tradition of music, and this is what I love about Mean Creek," Janovitz says, his voice rising ever so slightly, last week at the Phoenix Landing, a few hours before the ZuZu party. "To me, they really fit into a long line without being a tribute band to a time. They take a certain tradition that is distinctly Boston. It seems to follow this lineage that I used to hear in Burma, and then I'd go see Moving Targets, and then it was like, 'Here's a different thing,' but here's that Boston guitar sound that has a distinct quality, a folky-ness to it. Maybe it's this amped-up folk music. But it's art rock."
Such art rock from the likes of Mean Creek owes a heavy debt to Buffalo Tom. There's the comforting sound of Janovitz's emotional, melancholy lyrics erupting over the raspy-versus-smooth vocal interplay between him and Colbourn, and those large, sprawling melodies carried by jangly rock chords that force the issue and sound infinitely larger than the man playing them. Skins places you right back in 1993, a period that was perhaps the band's songwriting peak. The leadoff track, "Arise, Watch," eases in before its agitated bridge snaps sideways in fits. First single "Guilty Girls" is a dark pop gem that recalls signature Buffalo Tom hits "Summer" and "Taillights Fade." "Don't Forget Me" is a wistful ballad with guest vocals from Tanya Donelly.