In 2002, a Portland songwriter known only by the homonym “Buddy” relocated south to Los Angeles. In the twelve years since this fortuitous move, Buddy has expanded from a northwestern acoustic troubadour to a full band setup and recorded a self-titled EP in 2005 and a debut album Alterations and Repairs in 2007. After an abortive attempt at a sophomore release (Lighten Up Francis has still never seen the light of day), Buddy is back this month with Last Call For The Quiet Life – a 10-track set that both acknowledges his indie-folk roots and legitimately steps up as a contender in the crowded field of pop songwriting.
The bands genre is often listed as “wimpycore” and album opener Weak Currents does little to dodge this self-effacing label; it may even cheekily reinforce it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the lilting, Beach-Boy harmonies and mid-‘00s indie-pop vibe have the kind of sensitivity that would’ve been derogatively branded “borderline-emo” a decade ago, but now inspires a kind of nostalgia that few bands can accurately capture. Slow Light Down operates in a pretty similar way with chincy synths and guitar hooks, taking you straight back to that relationship we all had around the time Death Cab For Cutie’s Plans broke everyone’s heart in the most comforting way.
Fault Lines skirts with some flourishes of electronica without sacrificing any of its deft pop craftsmanship before Boxing Elbows (which, like a lot of Buddy’s catalogue, will make its way to the screen in the upcoming film Warren), despite a gorgeous cello solo, may take its Death Cab cues a little too literally and sounds almost exactly like Summer Skin. The arpeggiator-driven Behind It (Bad Advice) is kind of derivative in the same way, but it’s too twee to attack in too vicious a manner.
That being said, the similarities in aesthetic (vocal melodies, arrangements and instrumentation) keep coming thick and fast – like on the slow-burner Anchor and the blippy, almost Postal Service-ish Anywhere You Go. Just because it’s been 8 years since Ben Gibbard and co. etched their place in the sentimental zeitgeist (and that the future of DCFC remains hazy considering founding guitarist/producer Chris Walla’s departure this week), it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve forgotten them or are looking to replace them. Again, it’s not really fair to lay the boot into Buddy because he happens convey similar subject matter in a similar musical style – lyrically, it’s obvious that his heart is in the right place – but throughout a lot of Last Call For The Quiet Life, there are too many similarities to ignore entirely.
There’s some truly beautiful string work on Stare Too Long and penultimate track Frames Per Second – which picks things up a little with its late-‘90s, electro infused melancholy post-rock. The set wraps up with some adventurous, Wilco-esque production on the hushed, synth-powered Scrap Metal.
Last Call For The Quiet Life is, at its core, a good album in that its sentimentality isn’t over the top, but still packs an emotional punch. It would be nice if Buddy didn’t feel the need to adhere to a style that’s been expertly explored by a number of bands in the past, but the moments that really shine – and they certainly are peppered throughout – are the ones where the band go off-script and try things that may not be entirely comfortable with. More of that next time please Buds…