Buxton, a Houston-based quintet, makes a sonic shift with "Half A Native," its new album and second release on the New West Records label. Under the direction of producer Thom Monahan, the band has moved further away from the traditional acoustic instrumentation showcased on its 2012 label debut "Nothing Here Seems Strange" by embracing a washed-out sound that alternates between sunny and sad while sometimes being both at once.
"Half A Native" is all about atmosphere and mood - the kind of dusty collection custom-built to be a soundtrack to a noir film based in the American Southwest.
The cascading keyboard tinkle, opening guitar chords and repeating waves of instrumental/vocal crashes on "What I'd Do," the first track, set the tone. Not quite the SoCal pop of The Beach Boys, this sun-soaked song is lovely nonetheless.
Some of the strongest tracks here are the ones shrouded in a veil of melancholia. "Old Haunt" is a dark tale of love lost to the grave, "A Little Bit More" expresses the agony of wanting, and the album-closing "Pool Hall" is the less-than-confident dialogue of a man approaching potential new love.
Not everything here is slow and quiet. "Miss Catalina 1992" has the feel of a solid piece of high-octane surf rock minus the prominent lead guitar characteristic of that genre. And "Icebreaker," with its galloping structure that barely differentiates between verse and chorus, is an odd amalgam of "Help"-era Beatles combined with the garage rock sound of The Strokes' classic full-length debut Is "This It?"
Half A Native is not merely an exercise in style - there is plenty of substance here also. The 10 songs are not ballads telling a story, rather they are mostly conversational in tone with the narrator speaking directly to someone. This personal approach really allows the listener to get into that narrator's head - a nice touch that fosters a connection between audience and song.