My metal-loving and -practitioning brother-in-law (who just became a father — congrats, Brian!) sometimes uses a word that I’ve always understood but hadn’t learned to fully appreciate until this weekend.
Technically speaking, I’ve known the definition of the word “riff” for years. As an awkward early teenager milling about the guitar store, unsuccessfully giving off the vibe that “No, of course my mom didn’t drive me here,” wanting to touch and play everything but not wanting the other millers-about to know how few chords I knew — riffiness was everywhere. In that situation, you are the riff and the riff is you. People are loudly showing off their “Crazy Train”s and their “Enter Sandman”s — the phrases everyone’s ears know. I can remember feeling jealous about not being able to play those riffs. It didn’t matter that the slightly older teenagers playing them didn’t write them. The power of the riff endures, no matter who is doing the conjuring.
At the time, it seemed like that power was magical. Like the person who wrote the phrase tapped some vital life force or attitude and injected it into the notes to make them bigger than the sum of their parts. And I think there will always be a part of me that believes that. But this weekend, as I was listening to the new Budos Band album Burnt Offering for the fifth or sixth time, two things struck me:
- This album is riffy as hell
- Repetition is that vital force
Our brains love having expectations set and fulfilled. Repetition is deeply satisfying, and riffs are music chopped into the perfect serving size — that snack we can eat a bunch of in one sitting. Burnt Offering is a fantastic example. Over and over again, song after song, the band unites to forcefully establish a thematic phrase — one that’s both weighty and memorable — then they provide just the right amount of repetition to get your head moving and your brain’s juices flowing. I was talking to Mrs. YHT about this, and I told her that I can’t really identify a favorite song, nor is there a track that I especially look forward to, because they’re all equally effective and engaging. Each one becomes a favorite while I’m listening. There’s something wonderfully in-the-moment about the exercise that I just can’t get enough of. I keep playing the record again and again.
It’s no coincidence that the Daptone site describes the album as “dripping with the psychedelic sounds of early heavy metal.” Burnt Offering takes the best of that guitar store atmosphere and adds the depth and color that only a band of funk and soul veterans with saxes and bongos and trumpets could add, resulting in a group of songs that scratch the musical itch like nothing else I’ve heard this year.
Sample “The Sticks” below and buy Burnt Offering here.