BUXTON – SUNDAY, 10/28/18 @ 4:00PM
Near the midpoint of Buxton’s fifth album, “Stay Out Late,” singer and songwriter Sergio Treviño sings, “Only when you turn me inside out / it’s when you get to see what I’m about.”
Those lines most clearly articulate a thematic through-line that unites the album. On “Half a Native” three years ago, Treviño touched on an inside/outside theme, though it was through a brighter filter. He touched on subjects like identity and home.
“Stay Out Late” has a darker and more ethereal tone, with more internalized reflection.
Some of the tenuous tone on the album arises from Treviño’s struggle to get words down for the songs. Buxton released “Half a Native” three years ago. He worked on songs for his other band, Ancient Cat Society, but when time came to start rolling the stone for a Buxton album, he came up empty.
“I wasn’t able to write music for a long time,” he says. “Or at least any music I liked. You have this filter going all the time if you’re a working musician. And you know you have to continue and push along, even if you’re not feeling good about what you’re doing. You do it until you feel good.”
Then the song “Haunt You” came along. It wasn’t the first “Stay Out Late” track to get done, but Treviño says, “It felt like it put us on the right track.”
The song touches on connections both felt and perceived, a haunting of sorts befitting the title.
Buxton marks 15 years as an entity next month, a passage of time that caught me off guard as a listener as much as it does the members of the band.
“We thought of ourselves as young bucks here,” Treviño says. “Now we have people tell us, ‘I saw you when I was 13.’ And they’re adults now. You wonder how that’s possible. Then you realize a lot of our lives have gone through this band.”
That span of time started in La Porte, where Treviño began making music with bassist Chris Wise and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Jason Willis. They released “Red Follows Red” in 2005, an album that leaned toward folk, before adding drummer Justin Terrell and putting out “A Family Light” in 2009, which added some rougher edges to the mix.
To play all five albums in sequence is to notice a remarkable evolution. At times, the progress might seem like a reinvention, but “Each Horse With a Name” from “Family Light” feels like it has some shared fibers with the newer songs. Wise points out “Bones” does the same. The band added Austin Sepulvado, and its members all pushed any preconceived parameters as to what Buxton could sound like.
“‘Bones’ is like a synthy acoustic track,” Wise says. “We’ve been doing a version of that for a long time now. But a lot more on the new record.”
“There are things we do to keep it like Buxton and keep it consistent,” Treviño adds. “But I think I have a general inclination to progress, or evolve. It’s hard for me to do the same thing over and over again.”
Treviño mentions a trip to California where he bought the album “Laughing Stock” by Talk Talk, a British band that spanned 1981 to 1992. Talk Talk was born into the ’80s new wave and initially made fairly middle-of-the-road new wave music. The band pivoted on its last two albums into creating lush, almost symphonic song forms that unfolded over long spans of time.
“I got home and tried to do something like that,” Treviño says. “And I couldn’t create anything that made me feel that way it made me feel.”
While he blames those efforts to emulate “Laughing Stock” on initiating his writer’s block, it’s possible they jogged something loose because Buxton’s arc in some ways resembles Talk Talk’s. Both have vocalists with distinctive high voices that waver with beauty and eeriness. And both bands have made multiple albums with an identifiable sound, though the ground covered between the first and the most recent (in Talk Talk’s case, last) is vast.
Both bands have learned to use silence and quiet space to add mood, and grown savvy at punctuating the quiet with precise and intriguing sounds.
And both created inviting vibes that evoke nighttime. After putting a sun on the cover of its previous album cover, Buxton has a more interpretable piece of cover art for “Stay Out Late”: a sun-type orb sets while a pink moonlike orb rises. The image, as well as the music, carries a touch of Nick Drake’s mysterious progressive folk, a type of music in which nighttime can be both a haven and a source of anxiety. Buxton hits on that with the closing “Green of Endless Pines,” which captures the feeling that night rides home can be both comforting and ominous.
“That was me radiating while driving home from this experience I just had,” Treviño says. “So I was excited by the experience but also thinking about how you can lose it. So it’s almost a love song. It’s just a very somber love song.”