The first 29 seconds of the title track of Peter Buffett's new CD "Staring at the Sun" feature the kind of soothing atmospheric textures and lush, almost Gregorian vocals you'd hear playing softly in an upscale spa or a New Age bookstore.
That's hardly surprising.
Buffett's history as a composer and solo instrumentalist included a stint with Narada Records, which specialized in similar releases.
This, however, isn't one of those.
At the 30-second mark, the chorus takes over and the soothing stuff is pushed aside. Buffett, the former Milwaukee resident, unleashes his inner Butch Vig in the form of crunchy power chords and pounding percussion that would seem at home on a Garbage release.
"You can find me staring at the sun," he sings. "I know just what I've done. I cry for everyone."
The folks who do the categorizing at the iTunes store list "Staring at the Sun," Buffett's 13th, in the "pop" genre. Buffett, the son of billionaire financier Warren Buffett, released the disc on his own BeSide Records label and probably doesn't have a problem with that. Neither would patrons at the Starbucks on the corner.
Though it's not short on sunny moments, this disc isn't geared toward driving with the top down on a summer night. It is better experienced through headphones, which enable the listener to focus on the nuances (like a classical guitar break or piano coda) of a project crafted on a computer that contains echoes of tube amp and tape loop technology of the 1960s.
"I'm sort of, an old hand at making records myself and making things hopefully sound good in a small space," Buffett said during a recent interview with Bobby Tanzilo, OnMilwaukee.com's managing editor. "So, what I can do here is, and the vocal stuff has been this whole new found thing for me, which is a blast. I'm really having fun with it."
Buffett's layering of vocals on songs like "Broken Open"
evokes Simon and Garfunkel as well as the Beatles, Beach Boys and Byrds. The lyrics themselves are searching and somewhat dark. The first verse "Slow Suicide" is set against a bouncy ska-influenced upstroke rhythm that is offset by the lyric: "It's all nothing new / When it comes into view / What gets harder to hide / Is the slow suicide."
Considering the relief work of Buffett's NoVo Foundation has undertaken in West Africa, it's not hard to guess what inspired a song like "Anything."
"It may be time for us to open up our eyes / Then maybe one of us could finally realize / Is there something I can do? / Our hearts are breaking in the stillness of the night / But just the thoughts are not enough to make it right / I see you / Do you see me? / Can we do / Anything?"
That may not sound like a classic "pop" song, and this disc may not capture the pop audience. (He can always blame the label owner for lack of support!) Fans of Buffett's earlier works will want to give it a spin to see how his textures interlace with the lyrics and try to guess where the muse will lead him next.
Here is the video for "Reminder," which was directed and animated by Frank and Oliver Anderson:
Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.