Review Summary: Screaming Trees' last album under SST Records, Buzz Factory is certainly the band's most consistent one up to that point and a true highlight in its career.
Screaming Trees have always been of the most distinctive and versatile bands of the Seattle music scene of late 80's and early 90's. Though they never quite achieved the mainstream attention the material they put out deserved, they've always been held in high regard by a majority of grunge fans. After all, there was a time, B.N. to be precise (Before "Nevermind"), when the Trees were, alongside the Seattle contemporaries Soundgarden, Skin Yard and Mudhoney, considered the band that could take the grunge sound to an entirely different level and take it beyond the small town it once originated in. Combining 60's psychedelia, Led Zep's brand of heavy blues rock and a punk sound inspired by many bands of SST Records, which the Trees also belonged to once, the band often relied strongly on Gary Lee Conner's distinctive guitar tone and Mark Lanegan's strong baritone vocals to provide its iconic sound.
Before eventually moving on to Epic Records to record Trees' more successful releases, such as the 1992 breakout album Sweet Oblivion
, containing a hit single "Nearly Lost You", arguably the band's most famous tune, and the 1996 mellow acid grunge trip of Dust
, Screaming Trees had quite an interesting run under SST Records. The most consistent and intriguing project there would definitely be the last album released under the label, Trees' 4th output Buzz Factory
. Produced by Jack Endino, a legend in the grunge community, responsible for launching many of the genre's most talented bands' careers, the album is probably the first fully developed and truly excellent effort the band managed to pull off. While previous releases only showcased a glimpse of the Conner brothers and Lanegan's talents, just presenting sporadic moments of greatness, Buzz Factory
is the product of the Trees' constant growth and truly an underrated gem.
Jack Endino makes his presence felt in the album, in a great way. His duty as a producer is executed perfectly, as production's the best it's ever been in any Trees record up to that point. While, in the past, overly fuzzy guitars focused on heavy distortion and feedback, overpowered just about anyone else, here there's an almost effortlessly tremendous blend between Gary's wah guitar and a strong rhythm section. Lanegan has also improved upon his past performances here, showing an improvement both in his vocals and as a songwriter in general. Jack may have been the strength necessary to help Screaming Trees evolve as a band, and it shows in Buzz Factory
. Opener "Where The Twain Shall Meet" is a fan favorite and a definite sign of a band packing a much stronger punch. As Van Conner's pounding bass line and Mark Pickerel's steady drum beat provide a strong groove, Lanegan's vocal delivery is top notch, culminating in an excellent chorus and a truly memorable song as well.
Standouts really abound in Buzz Factory
, as it basically presents the band's best musical moments up to that point and some of the best songs they have. While somewhat different than a lot grunge bands of the time, the Trees certainly take influence from quite a bunch of great outfits, namely Soundgarden in "Black Sun Morning", a fierceful and heavy track featuring a superb and hooky chorus in which Lanegan elevates his tone, retaining similarity to Chris Cornell. Trees' punk influences also show in tunes such as a quick and catchy "Windows" and a superb energetic track "Revelation Revolution", but it's the band's classic fuse of punk and psychedelia that stands out just as surprisingly. Evidencing as much influence from Cream as they do from The Stooges, the band's very own sense of originality and songwriting chops help refine Trees' recognizable sound, here represented by bright moments such as "Wish Bringer" and "The Looking Glass Cracked". There's even room for some great acoustic instrumentation, which had been absent from the band's previous outputs, in "Flower Web", which adds a lot more depth to Buzz Factory
If there's any criticism that should be pointed out at the album it'd an occasional moment of filler, found here in "Yard Trip No.7". Also, "End Of The Universe" has some charm for a while but quickly loses steam as it's a bit overlong. Aside from that, Buzz Factory
is an excellent album, Screaming Trees' first that sounds fully developed. While its predecessor Invisible Lantern
already hinted at a step in the right direction for the Conner brothers, as it sounded more a product of an original band rather than a fuzzy tribute to great 60's psych bands, Buzz Factory
is the consolidation of the strong ideas the previous release had to offer. An honorable mention goes out to "Subtle Poison", one of my favorite Trees tunes and a "should've been" grunge signature song, definitely a highlight in the album. If you want an introduction to Screaming Trees, Buzz Factory
serves as a starting point as amazingly as any other future Trees release would do, as it really is a contender for one of the band's strongest releases.