Avi Buffalo – [Album]

Sunday, 16 May 2010

There's an old French proverb that reads, “It's all very well in practice, but it will never work in theory.” Of course, hearing that or reading it makes the rational mind recoil for a minute because it flies in the face of precautionary principles and deductive reasoning but there are instances, like learning of and hearing Avi Buffalo's self-titled debut LP, when anyone looking or listening can see and hear that it's true.

A few things that those uninitiated to Avi Buffalo should know walking in to the band's debut:

  • Singer/lyricist Avi Zahner-Isenberg appears to write his lyrics by the paragraph – not the line – which means that they seldom rhyme and occasionally veer off-meter which further illustrates that fact.
  • The singer's voice is a powerful instrument. So powerful that it nearly overloads the microphone (a perfect example appears on “Jessica”) on a few occasions.
  • Going against Sub Pop's tradition of releasing rock records (honorable mention to Combustible Edison), Avi Buffalo is a more singer-songwriter-ly affair.

As long as a listener is aware of those things (I wasn't – so it took a couple of runs through the album to get into it), it's reasonably to not find your eyebrows raising involuntarily at the record as it plays.

From the very beginning of Avi Buffalo, listeners are hit by a staggeringly dense but delicate wall of sound centered around acoustic guitars but with so many layers applied on top that listeners might not even notice right away; the spidery, descending leads and Zahner-Isenberg's own very small and mousey but attractive vocals take and hold most of the attention at first. It's a very clean, tidy and ornate song that shoots for an artistic delicacy seldom seen in any band's debut album (especially not one made by a bunch of seventeen-year-olds) and that fact, combined with the band's obvious confidence in what they're doing, proves to be the bait that invites listeners in and hooks them.

With their targets safely inside, Avi Buffalo immediately begins messing with different aspects of that first song's structure, but the changes are always subtle enough that listeners will have to work at it to notice in the record's early playing.

First, the lyrical structure starts mutating. Beginning with “What's In It For?” the lyrics begin to rhyme progressively less and, as a direct result of that, the melodies get looser to accommodate the more regularly irregular line lengths and meter. With a little more confidence too, Zahner-Isenberg begins to project his voice a little more, thereby raising it a few semitones and making the tone of it a little more androgynous.

Does that mean to say that the band is weakening? Not at all; in fact, the focus of the record is coming more clearly into view. Through songs including “Coaxed,” “Five Little Sluts, “Summer Cum,” “One Last” and “Remember Last Time,” Avi Buffalo takes up the 'college rock' torch with enthusiasm as, without anything resembling a riff, they play the heartstrings of listeners and ultimately have even the most cynical critics swooning because the effect is both sweet and smart. That's a combination that no one could even hope to fake and it's also impossible to resist because, as loose as the melodies might get, the tone in Zahner-Isenberg's tenor never wavers.

Above it all, listeners will remain glued to their speakers because, as young as Avi Buffalo might be, the band has taken a completely different approach to melodic songwriting (and an unlikely one at that) and made it work. Somehow, the band has made something deliberately loose translate into a set of fine pop songs that are fearless in their presentation and craft. It'll be interesting to see if the band pulls this same trick twice on their next release, or immediately throws some distance between themselves and this debut to start growing and further mutating.



Avi Buffalo – “What's In It For” – Avi Buffalo


Avi Buffalo
is out now on Sub Pop Records. Buy it here on Amazon .

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