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The Boston Phoenix Making it Neu!

Buffalo Daughter's New Rock.

By Tristram Lozaw

MARCH 30, 1998:  Leave it to what started as a Japanese sample-hop crew to come up with a perfect end-of-the-millennium definition of what rock needs now: "Ashita ni umareta, natsukashi ongaku." For those of us without full-time translators, that's "Born tomorrow, that familiar music," a cagy reincarnation of the old "looking back to go forward" theme. And leave it to that same Japanese band to name their new Grand Royal album New Rock (the above creed is from the title cut) and be able to make good on the boast. Buffalo Daughter operate in the time-honored Japanese tradition of taking on Western ideas -- radios, cars, computers -- and making them better and simpler. The Buffs just took a look at their long list of favorite pop and started reinventing.

"We like every kind of music," says guitarist SuGar Yoshinaga, whose favorite guitarist is legend Link Wray. "Electronic music in the '60s and '70s, rock and roll and Beach Boys things, techno, drum 'n' bass, disco things. And we all were influenced by early new wave like Devo, the Stranglers, XTC, Talking Heads."

There are elements of all of the above in Buffalo Daughter's sweet-and-sour surge, with its road-ready pedestrian riffs pounding into the swoosh of vintage electronics. Circular Talking Heads-style motifs and mind-numbing ZZ Top rock-steadiness compete with Shonen Knife punk-poppiness, "beginner's luck" ingenuity, hip-hop scratches, Robert Moog-worshipping blips, and airy dual-gal harmonies (think Stereolab). Yet the band unassumingly master the art of style mixing. How do they do it?

"When we write a song it's quite simple," SuGar says. "We just grab a bass and guitar and sing. It's not so unique, I think." She must be implying that we Americans make everything too complicated. Otherwise, why couldn't a Yankee combine musical elements found right in his/her own back yard and come up with the new rock?

Maybe that should be the "Neu!" rock. Like their distant cousins Stereolab, Buffalo Daughter can trace their sonic backbone directly back to Neu!, an obscure German, minimalist, space-rock, driving-music band of the 1970s. SuGar says Buffalo Daughter started heavy listening of Neu! and other '70s German rockers shortly after recording 1996's Captain Vapour Athletes. Bassist/keyboardist Yumiko Ohno even wore a "Neu! Rock" T-shirt at the band's recent Middle East gig. Working in the tranced-out Krautrock shtick and repetitive mindset has bumped Buffalo Daughter's material up a notch. But where Neu!'s influence can really be heard is in the zoom factor -- streamlining and simplifying the music until it develops an inner momentum. That, along with cues from the stage demeanor of former tour partners Jon Spencer, Pavement, and Luscious Jackson, has made the Buffs' set lists less of a jumble.

Live, Buffalo Daughter's jackknifing vibe now hits the crowd like the 18-wheelers of which they're so fond -- the band refers to them as "silver turkeys" in two tunes. But as the 65-minute Middle East set confirmed, the Buffs' rock amalgam still arrives at its center from all over the map. Great psycho-core guitar pierced Gary Numan-ish pulses to yield "Rhythm and Basement." Jazzy downtown discord draped itself over a mutant James Brown beat on "No New Rock" à la No New York-era Contortions. Moog Yamamoto's turntable samples and found sounds mingled with foamy acoustic strums, surf rock, and hired drummer Atsushi's crunching Autobahn cruise. And all hell broke loose on a 15-minute encore of the Kraftwerk-funky "LI303VE" (pronounced "3-0-3 live"), which featured five minutes of Atsushi playing air drums.

On New Rock, the Buffs reach similar visceral and hypnotic highs -- especially on the blissed-out "Sky High," "Super Blooper," and the title cut. But the CD also retains more of the band's original jerking, cut-and-paste ethic. Formed in 1993 to create purposeful musical chaos for commercials, video games, and indie film soundtracks, Buffalo Daughter were launched with two releases on Japan's indie Cardinal Records, Shaggy Headdressers and Amoeba Soundsystem. Grand Royal picked up the group and released a seven-inch, "Legend of the Yellow Buffalo," and the subsequent Captain Vapour Athletes album in the US in 1996.

Last year's Socks, Drugs and Rock and Roll EP featured reworkings of Buffalo Daughter tracks by such remixers as Money Mark and U.N.K.L.E., a service that BD themselves have provided for Shonen Knife. The band appeared ready to buy wholesale into the sample-and-remix culture, but who wants more Dust Brothers or Puff Daddy wanna-bes? What the world needs now is a better rock outfit. One that looks backward to look forward. One that thinks like Buffalo Daughter.

"It's simple," SuGar says. "And we have lots of things we want to try."

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