Rapidfire Reviews: If Kansas Had Trees, RXKNephew, Buffalo Tom

Posted: by The Editor


If Kansas Had Trees – Where You Thought You Would Be 

At the end of this month, If Kansas Had Trees will be opening One Step Closer’s All You Embrace record release show alongside Koyo, Arms Length, and fellow Wilkes-Barre locals Choice to Make. They make for a natural fit, as their debut LP Where You Thought You Would Be triangulates the perfect middle ground between pop-punk and emo, blending all those bands’ best qualities.

On tracks like “Stubborn” and “My Memory,” If Kansas Had Trees trade in the sort of mathy, acrobatic guitar licks associated with contemporary emo, and they graft them onto the sort of snotty hooks that the pop-punk bands of the early 2010s were writing; the latter is one of the band’s best tracks, one where they really play up the contrast between the verses and the choruses. Singles “Decay” and “Swallow” pull similar tricks; the former is a classic mid-tempo pop-punk cut, but “Swallow” is a highlight—they lean into the 2010s nostalgia and pull from the ‘soft grunge’ of the era, calling to mind the first LPs from Turnover and Basement. If there’s a weakness to Where You Thought You Would Be, it’s that—so much of the record is clearly indebted to so many other artists from the recent past. But If Kansas Had Trees is a young band, and this is only their first full-length, and to be honest most of the bands they’re inspired by didn’t come out with debuts this strong. They grew into themselves, and If Kansas Had Trees will do the same.

Disappointing / Average / GoodGreat / Phenomenal

Cover art for Till I’m Dead 2 by RXKNephew

RXK Nephew – Till I’m Dead 2

RXK Nephew billed his 2023 project Till I’m Dead as his studio debut, and although he’s released thirteen projects since—eight last year and seven this year—he’s finally properly followed it up. (By the time you’re reading this he’s almost certainly dropped even more music.) The production on Till I’m Dead 2, like on the original, is entirely handled by frequent collaborator RX Brainstorm, and the two know each other’s strengths well by now. As ever, the beats are eclectic, but Brainstorm brings in a ton of house influence this time, as on cuts like “Proud of Me” and “Walmart,” and “My Money” features one of the most club-ready beats Neph’s ever rapped over. Other tracks are more elegant, like the cascading synths on “Aint Tiktok’n” or the starry, airy “Intro (Heartless & Relentless)” beat.

Till I’m Dead 2 gives us glimpses of the Rochester rapper at his most restrained; “Body” features Neph at his smoothest, adopting an almost R&B cadence, and he matches the energy of the “Intro (Heartless & Relentless)” beat by pulling back into a conversational, deadpan flow. Lyrically, while he’s still hilarious, Neph doesn’t shy away from touching on more personal topics: tributes to his grandparents, uncle, and parents, and apologies to his daughter. It’s easy to think of RXK Nephew as a punchline rapper, but all throughout Till I’m Dead 2 he proves himself to be far more than just another American tterroristt.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Buffalo Tom – Jump Rope

Buffalo Tom was a huge influence on the emo bands of the ’90s (Christie Front Drive and Mineral in particular were avowed fans), but they haven’t caught on among emo fans in the same way other foundational groups like Superchunk or The Smiths have. Admittedly, it can be easy to hear why; Buffalo Tom has a softer, folksier tinge to their sound, but it remains a shame, as on the band’s tenth LP Jump Rope they’re still as powerful as they were when they were literal college rockers.

Jump Rope is likely the band’s most stripped-down album, the band relying far more on acoustic guitars and gently, swaying harmonies than in the past; opener and lead single “Helmet” is something of a red herring, one of the liveliest tracks on Jump Rope. The breezy, jangly “New Girl Singing,” which follows, is a more appropriate summation of what to expect from the album, but it also manages to feature one of the album’s biggest choruses. The album is most successful when the songs are able to breathe without snuffing out the hooks; “Pine for You” and the back-to-back of “Our Poverty” and “The Belle of Borderline Dismay” are great examples. Unfortunately, “Compromised” kills the momentum immediately; similarly, “Recipes” is a by-the-numbers folk rocker. At fourteen tracks and over 50 minutes, Jump Rope can drag, but its highs are high enough to justify a spin—they’re as good as anything the Boston indie legends have ever done.

Disappointing / Average / GoodGreat / Phenomenal

Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison

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