The Buttercream Gang – Oh Brother [Album Review]

The Buttercream Gang is a three-piece indie pop band based out of San Francisco. In line with bands like Vampire Weekend and Yeasayer, the Gang incorporates elements of island music and afro-pop into their slick, dance floor-inclined tunes. Surfy, clean guitar licks pop up amongst steel drums, horns, and keyboards, which drive their often-jubilant choruses.

Their newest album Oh Brother continues in that tradition, sounding a lot like the soundtrack to a great beach party. Opener ‘Rain or Shine’ begins with a ringing organ that begs the soccer chant response the band gladly gives during instrumental breaks. It quickly gives way to a syncopated 4/4 dance beat punctuated by the horn section that pops up frequently in the album.

While all three members sing on the album, their voices harmonize so often that it’s hard to pick out whose singing on each track. In any case, the three of them often sound like British singer/songwriter and Last Shadow Puppets member Miles Kane. Brother’s third track and album standout ‘Say My Crimes’ starts off like The Strokes at the beach, all down strokes and driving rhythms before a languid guitar melody drops in and the pace slows. The song then drifts into the sort of sensitive, hook heavy pop The Kooks seem to live off.

The band is at their most Vampire Weekend-y during the album’s fourth track, ‘Hua Hin’. Between the keyboards, the finger picked guitar melody and the vocals that remarkably recall Ezra Koenig, the song would’ve fit easily on that band’s self-titled debut with its expensive beach resort locale. On ‘Brother’ it’s one of the slighter songs only in that it rides the sounds of its peers to closely.

The back half of the album covers a bit more ground than the slightly catchier, more immediate first half. The first instrumental ‘Dubious Souls’ goes full on surf with tremolo’d guitars and a vaguely psychedelic organ melody, and the second one, ‘Boomerang’ incorporates what sounds almost like pots and pans into the percussion to create a short, marching band type interlude. Album closer ‘Pitch Black’ adds plenty of reverb to the vocals, as the guitars ring with distortion, before the tempo slows once again and a breezy melody is introduced.

Like I said before, this certainly isn’t stuff anything revelatory or completely new to indie listeners, but what separates from some of it’s peers is the sense of joy the band seems to get out of the songs. Instead of getting bogged down in self-serious lyricism or promoting a certain aesthetic, these guys simply bang out catchy, quasi-exotic dance songs, and their enthusiasm comes through in the music.

-Dillon Riley