Avi Buffalo Avi BuffaloAvi Buffalo
Some babies are born all smiles and tears, emotionally bipolar, like the majority of the human race, while some are born round-faced oddities of sadness, like Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg, alma mater of Avi Buffalo, the band that is the candidate to take over from The xx as the young-underagers-who-make-music-as-well-or-better-than-many-adults. With this debut LP, California’s Zahner-Isenberg has created a string of psychedelic indie pop songs that could give goosebumps to the most frozen eardrum. Who could have told Aaron Embry, the album’s producer and on-stage companion of the deceased Elliott Smith, that the first song of Avigdor’s that he would hear would be “What’s In It For,” the wonderful single that has some choral reminiscences of The Beach Boys as perfect as Brian Wilson without a double chin? What’s more, Avigdor met his band at Millikan High School. And also in the band is Rebecca Coleman, his girlfriend, with the voice that the perfect girl should have, on the keyboards and piano. So we’ve got the song and the story. Now we just have to upload the piece to Youtube and wait. And they waited. And it turned out that in a few months, Sub Pop noticed them and signed them on. Yep. It sounds like a dream.
And so does the album. The breath of fresh air must feel like a punch in the throat to all of those “mature” artists who think that they’re better than they really are. We’re talking about the debut of a group of kids whose first four songs already put their arms around the shoulders of The Shins (whose echoes in production are ever-present). The guitars out front at the beginning of “Truth Sets In” give way to a mixture of voices, those of Avigdor and Rebecca, which exude vitality as if they were surfing on the crest of a California wave. What The Verve wanted to do in “Urban Hymns”(1997) with layers of choruses professional-style, Avi Buffalo achieves in the single on offer, with an amazing naturalness. Wilco’s famed progressive instrumental endings in the “Sky Blue Sky” phase feel warmer and more varied in wild textures in “Remember Last Time” and in parts of “Coaxed,” a song that a smiling Christina Rosenvinge would be happy to claim, and which has that touch of progressive-folk that we used to hear at the end of the 60’s.
We also witness the virtual meeting between Joanna Newsom and Arcade Fire in the witty “Summer Cum” (spiral dots included), and if we want to get mainstream, we can hear traces of Dire Straits’ guitars (better here, of course) in the ballad “Jessica,” a love song that sounds more like Clem Snide than some (let’s say it one more time) high school kids, and kids whose emotional depth, just by looking at them, we would have guessed to be similar to that of a brick. Especially noteworthy is Avigdor’s sharp voice, which he plays with however he wants to, and which at times sounds like Neil Young (in “Jessica” as well), and which lets itself get wrapped up in waves of sound (in “Five Little Sluts”) or in the affectation of an existential plaint in the masterpiece of the set, “One Last,” where Rebecca also shines with her own light, and where the group shows a know-how that few can match. And there’s more: the retro air of “Can’t I Know” fits in perfectly with Simon & Garfunkel, in what seems more like a copy of certain musical airs that aren’t made for such young minds than a wink at the duo.
It’s hard to find groups of kids like this, who seem so normal and proper, as if they’ve just stepped out of an advertisement, and to see that they can bring out first albums as big as the self-titled “Avi Buffalo.” Surely they won’t become the hype of the year, nor will they have the heart-melting song at the right time in the right place. And there are others like them (see, for example, their big brothers The Shins), so we’re not going to have an epiphany or praise their names to the skies. But you have to admit that most of us, at the tender age of nineteen, weren’t thinking about these things and wouldn’t have done them so well. Jordi Guinart