The Buttertones’ dark surf sound matures on ‘Jazzhound’

Innovative Leisure/Courtesy

Related Posts

Grade: 4.0/5.0

The Buttertones have a well-known name in the indie rock community, playing popular surf rock sounds that have recently flooded the genre. While the band seemingly lost touch with its identity on its last two albums, it has truly come into its own on its new album, Jazzhound. The record, released April 10, is a tumultuous mix of soft jazz, upbeat bops and refined sounds that highlights the Buttertones’ growth and ability to be fully comfortable with this new era.

Combining industrial influences and smooth ’50s surf music, the Buttertones make a smart choice in diversifying their discography, even if only slightly. Jazzhound begins with “Phantom Eyes,” a fittingly jazzy number with tight drums. The song immediately marks a shift in the way the Buttertones carry themselves, from the clean melodies to singer Richard Araiza’s deep, velvety voice somehow becoming even more suave. 

Bringing in more dark jazz influences, “Denial You Win Again” is a welcome branching-out of the band’s tried and true sound. But in a flash, Jazzhound transitions from upbeat, high-energy songs to more subdued, sentimental tracks. 

“Fade Away Gently,” with a perfectly moderate tempo, is one of the record’s more melancholy songs. Its speed doesn’t match the album’s other songs too closely, nor is it too boringly slow. The lyrics mirror those found in early Buttertones albums, woeful but painfully relatable, allowing one to live vicariously through the singer’s sadness. It’s a hint to listeners that the Buttertones still possess most of the qualities that made fans fall in love with them.

Longtime admirers of the group’s raucous side, fear not: The reckless indie energy is still well and present. Songs “Dirty Apartment” and “Bebop” are loud, vivid images of nostalgia. “Bebop” sounds like an improved version of the group’s previous sounds: sinister, urgent and dance-worthy. 

And then, before listeners realize, Jazzhound’s energy becomes softer and more romantic. The longing found on “Blind Passenger” and the sultriness of “Velour” weave tales of a life in shambles, resulting in eventual acceptance and an uplifting ending. “Velour” in particular is a smooth, plush song, just like the material it’s named after. The Buttertones play to their ability to match the song’s tone to its title strangely well, something the band has done before on tunes such as “Matador.” But the gems of the song are the surprise appearances of rich bass riffs — exactly what the song needs to give it an extra oomph.

Although each song is fundamentally different, the drums consistently shine as the unifying element that immediately hits listeners’ ears. The transitions in Jazzhound are incredibly smooth; the vocals are rich and each instrument adds a significant piece to the record’s overall harmony.

Jazzhound wraps up on a gentler note with “Infinite Tenderness,” a track that’s a fusion of all of the album’s soft sounds. “I’ll hold you till you sleep/ Then I’m gone,” sings Araiza. The tune holds listeners gently, and then it’s gone. The final song, “Jazzhound,” is one last cry from the Buttertones saying they know exactly what they’re doing. The only problem is that the song could have been more memorable; it fades into the distance and doesn’t fit as the capstone, despite being the titular track.

This album is proof that the Buttertones have matured from being a simple indie surf rock band into one that has multiple layers of experience, genres and emotions. The band has reined in the energy that propelled them to success, crafting a sophisticated sound that will keep them at the top for a long time. 

The Buttertones are confident in Jazzhound — and rightfully so. It’s an album that shows not only the band’s immense growth, but also the Buttertones’ dedication to music and the effort they’ve put into releasing a quality record.

Pooja Bale covers music. Contact her at [email protected].