Avi Buffalo: Avi Buffalo Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on the self titled debut album by Avi Buffalo.
Jon S (Radio K)
What makes Avi Buffalo so remarkable with this first set of songs is their age, something they probably don’t want to be acknowledged for, but should take pride in. Fresh out of high-school, these tunes on their self-titled first effort are more mature than most material bands put out in their entire discography. Lead singer Avi plays the guitar with such finesse that it really is a remarkable thing to witness, trained since a kid in the technique and company of jazz musicians in California, evident in songs like “Five Little Sluts” and the brilliant chord progressions in “Can’t I Know?” The dual female-male vocals he implements with pianist RebeccaColeman in “One Last” makes them sound like a seasoned couple (ironic since they indeed were an item before the band formation). They hit every genre here, from soaring 7 ½ minute epics, country-twang, and pure pop sensibilities. It really is a wonder to see this unfold. The layers here are lush, gradually showing their might, and are true growers; it takes a few listens to grasp every part of the songs. Then again, they might be divisive. People could say this is a less flashy version of The Shins, but while so many bands digress in a follow-up effort like the aforementioned, Avi Buffalo is so young that they have no issue experimenting with even more complex sounds than they have already accomplished with this debut. In the end, you have to realize: what in the hell will the next album sound like considering how great this one is?
Jon B (Reviler)
Overall the new AviBuffalo record is pretty impressive, especially considering the age of these kiddos. Despite their much lauded twee songwriting (I found most of their lyricism fairly flat), I was much more drawn to the band’s instrumentation than anything else. Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg’s guitar work, particularly, shivers and flutters so gorgeously that it truly takes the melodies into a truly otherworldly place. Zahner-Isenberg’sdeft touches make “What’s it in For,” “Summer Cum” and “One Last” one of the most impressive triads of singles I have seen on an album this year. The record sags a little in the middle though with the impressively named but somewhat rote “FiveLittle Sluts,” as well as “Jessica” making for less than stellar material. “Remember Last Time” also gets a little too jammy (at seven plus minutes long), but nothing a little restraint wouldn’t fix. It’s an imperfect but solid effort from the budding group, made all the more impressive for the fact that when I was their age the most substantial thing I had done was to graduate high school.
“You gotta hear this one song. It’ll change your life, I swear.” Natalie Portman said that about the Shins in Garden State, and I laughed, but it was probably true for the members of Avi Buffalo. The Sub Pop bio says frontman Avi Zahner-Isenberg used to be a skateboarder, took lessons from “seriously iconoclastic local bluesmen”, loves avant guitar legend Nels Cline, and made noise music in his garage before he wised up and joined the world of Professional Indie Rock. Now, he’s trafficking in tasteful, almost nonexistent jangle guitar pop that critics are by law required to describe as “sunny” and “West Coast.”
A great pop song crashes the party, demanding your attention. Avi Buffalo’s tunes dutifully show up at your door with a moderately priced pinot noir, then spend the rest of the party making small talk in the kitchen until they feel like they’ve stayed long enough to get credit for showing up. This record is almost unspeakably boring; the worst tracks (like “Coaxed”) barely seem able to rouse themselves out of bed to go about the business of being a song. By about halfway through, I was so narcoticized by the endless whirr of twinkly arpeggios it was almost exciting when “Where’s Your Dirty Mind” morphed into a halfway decent Durutti Column song for about a minute. The best two songs are “What’s It In For?” and “Summer Cum” which feature, respectively, an actual hook and a perpetual motion chord change that actually managed to stick in my mind.
As lifestyle music goes, I guess this is as functional as any nu-indie jive. It’s certainly something hip to listen to that won’t upset your mother when she comes to visit. It’ll probably make a fairly poignant iPad commercial someday. I just don’t know why it exists.
Avi Buffalo, the self titled debut from a bunch of starry eyed kids, was a classic case for me of misplaced expectations. After hearing the stirring “What’s in it for?” (and putting it on repeat), I eagerly searched out the full album, only to find that the track was far and away the best the group had to offer. This isn’t saying that there aren’t good tracks on the album. “Five Little Sluts” and “Summer Cum” are much more sweet and endearing than their names suggest, and the group makes generally likable indie pop. I always wonder if perception of albums (i.e having high expectations before the first listen) can change the final outcome of the listeners experience. The genial, low key vibe on the bands debut (on Sub Pop, of course), allows me to breeze through the 10 tracks on the album and only really get shaken out of my daydream for one song. In a world with a plethora of new bands each day, that serves as something of an indictment (especially in an era where the one song can easily be sepererated from the others on a playlist). Avi Buffalo falls neatly into the type of music I will enjoy if someone else puts it on, but will rarely find myself searching it out or recommending it to others.