Garage rock trio Buddy Banter's debut album Paradise Thrillz arrived two years ago, loaded with energy and promise. In my review, I noted the group's "tendency to rip through catchy alt-rock tunes with...velocity and recklessness," and that was largely its appeal. They still had some distance to go before their songwriting matched up with their energy, but the trio at least made some major strides from being a scrappy live band into something much more than that.
I Am Nothing, their follow-up EP to that raw, rowdy debut, is where the band makes that much-needed step up to something more sophisticated. It almost sounds like an entirely different band. With I Am Nothing, Buddy Banter makes the surprising, though inevitable transition toward shoegaze and dream pop. The band always had traces of effects-laden psychedelia in their punk-leaning pop, but rarely gave in fully to those impulses. Here, they have, and it's a good look for them.
Leadoff track "Cheers" whooshes in with the rush of classic Ride or Swervedriver, tinted with the sunny glow of late-'80s jangle pop and the melancholy sparkle of classic 4AD Records bands. The combination of influences, poured into this one song, comes across not so much as derivative, but as a tasteful and successful reinterpretation of existing sounds. And that it's actually quite catchy only helps its case.
The group slows down a bit on the murky, heavier "Hello, Goodbye," but they maintain a similar aesthetic, layering on heavy doses of guitar effects and fuzz, as well as what sounds like a cello, which turns up the elegance a bit. The closest thing to the Buddy Banter of old is probably "Let Me Go," which is one of the simplest and most angst-filled tracks of the EP, loaded with lines like "I don't want to go out anymore." And yet, it's not that close to their last album at all, which only shows how far the band has traveled since that first outing.
Buddy Banter started off with promise and potential, but after two years and a pretty major transition, it seems they've ultimately come to live up to it on I Am Nothing.