Album Review: Avi Buffalo – Avi Buffalo




Very rarely do I want to give into the hype machine. As an avid consumer of music news, the new “greatest band” or the “next big thing to watch out for” continually assaults me. I have heard few bands that fit these criteria and continue to do so after one album. I refuse to say that Animal Collective, Vampire Weekend, or MGMT are “amazing” or “show stopping.” Sorry for those of you that enjoy those bands or others that sound like them, but I just can’t do it.

I’ve given into the machine before. I actually think the Arctic Monkeys are a solid band. I still like The Hives and The Strokes. All of these bands’ first albums are fantastic. So are most of their subsequent albums. However, more often than not the hype machine is more of a deterrence than an aid. It causes bands to get too popular too fast and then they just explode and vaporize (remember The Vines?).

Recently, I’ve been convinced by hype again, but not hype alone. Avi Buffalo hails from Long Beach, and their self-titled debut on Sub-Pop is a solid album. They have had their praises sung all over the internet, and they were billed as the next exploding band going into their SXSW shows. From all I’ve heard and read, they delivered. So, I will be another member of that machine, and enthusiastically so.

The band is led by the young and talented singer/songwriter/guitarist Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg (Avi for short). He is backed by a band of brilliant friends to round out a shimmering, reverb-drenched soundscape. Every member is creative and inventive with his or her instruments. Rebecca Coleman’s keyboards and backing vocals fit perfectly with Sheridan Riley’s rolling drums and Arin Fazio’s understated bass playing, all molding around Isenberg’s noodling, yet well-crafted guitar work. Isenberg’s high-pitched, child-like vocals draw immediate comparisons to former Sub-Pop darling, James Mercer. It took me a few close listens and videos of Isenberg performing solo takes on the songs to fully believe that it was in fact him singing and not Coleman. Isenberg has a fantastically smooth voice that fits the more upbeat, twee-pop songs, but also gives a heartbreaking innocence to the slower tunes.

The band’s overall sound isn’t too far away from The Shins. The songwriting is solid, especially on tracks like “Where’s Your Dirty Mind?”, “Summer Cum”, and “What’s in it For?”. While some of the lyrics might be somewhat childish—the song is called “Summer Cum” after all—they still show maturity far beyond the band’s years. They don’t dwell on the teehee-factor of saying “cum” in a song, and the word play is fabulous: “I’ve waited for your love/I got lost in your summer cum/Leave all your stains with me/and know that I will never be allowed/to walk right next to you/and be that one that you ought to.”

I was hoping to make it through this entire review without mentioning the band members’ ages. All I’ve read about them makes it a point to say how young they are, and I was hoping I wouldn’t be just another reviewer doing the same. But it is a point that kind of does seem necessary to make if only because it shows what growth potential Avi Buffalo has. They are almost all fresh out of high school, with bassist Fazio being the oldest at 21. The talent that these young folks have is fantastic for someone of any age, but to have them all be as young as they are is fantastic in a longevity sense. “Maturity beyond their years” is an insipid and cliché statement, but it applies to Avi Buffalo perfectly. When I was around their age, I could never write a song with as much passion as album highlights “Jessica” and “Can’t I Know?”. Did you write lines like “Jessica, I’ll try my best not to make this hard/I know I took this way too far/And I can’t tell when something’s real/Nobody tells me how they feel/It’s always right beneath my nose/And if that’s just the way it goes/Then I just won’t ignore your calls” when you were 17? Exactly.

So while being part of the hype team is something that doesn’t sit comfortably with me, for Avi Buffalo I will gladly take that position. Their debut album is about as strong as any debut I’ve heard in a while, and I do believe that they can only get better with time. Once Avi Isenberg realizes some love pains outside of high school, as well as the pains of being an “it” band, I’m sure only better songs will come out of this band. I do highly suggest this album.