Review Summary: Adolescent love has rarely been this cute.
Following a hype train can be a dangerous thing. Follow the right one and you can end up discovering something new and revitalizing, like a Surfer Blood or a Tallest Man on Earth. Follow the wrong one and you could spend hours convincing yourself to like the newest Black Kids CD because, well, dozens of bloggers can’t be wrong! When precocious Long Beach young ‘uns Avi Buffalo released their anticipated debut earlier this year, they had all the prerequisites for their own hype machine: hot single(s), Pitchfork approval, a fairly surprising rating on Metacritic (82!). I listened to one song, judged them as an early Shins knock-off and promptly forgot about them. That’s the problem with hype – too much of it and you go into the listen expecting something utterly mind-blowing, something that will live up to an almost mythic status all this blogosphere talk builds up yet rarely matches. Avi Buffalo
is not mind-blowing, nor is it even one of the best debuts I’ve heard this year. Simply put, it’s great, solid indie-pop music, music that merely portends the arrival of a band that has more potential than most their age and some pretty slick songwriting chops.
I really wanted to give this a higher rating, particularly after hearing gems like opener “Truth Sets In” or “Coaxed,” songs that replicate the gentle flow of (yes) early Shins or debut-album Noah and the Whale. It’s twee without being overly cute, something hard to do when your band is besieged everywhere they go by the constant addendum “but they’re only 19!!!” Excellently-named vocalist Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg sounds just like a dozen other indie-pop vocalists, having mastered the art of the high-pitched, fragile whisper and the occasional faux falsetto, but it’s the songwriting that elevates Avi Buffalo
from the also-rans. “What’s In It For?” is a fantastic pop single, marrying a beautiful melody to a stick-in-your-head hook and the kind of instant accessibility that future MTV-show soundtracks are made of. That’s not a knock on the band’s obvious penchant for writing songs everyone is interested in nowadays, but a testament to how well the songs click. It helps that Isenberg is actually quite the guitar player, making the unexpected fretwork on tunes like “Jessica” and “Remember Last Time” the highlights rather than the strong pop foundations the songs are built on. Even when the solos go on a bit too long, as they do most egregiously on the 7-and-a-half-minute “Remember Last Time,” Isenberg’s jangly guitar work is pleasant enough to forgive the youthful wankery.
But then there’s songs like the lackluster “Can’t I Know” or the way too much of the latter half of the album bleeds together, something that can’t really be avoided when Avi Buffalo stick strictly to their inoffensive guitar-pop formula throughout. While “Where’s Your Dirty Mind” and “One Last” are good songs in their own right, it’s obvious that Avi Buffalo
is a front-loaded record, with the best melodies ending with “Summer Cum.” That last is another divisive issue with the band, being the clearest example of Isenberg’s juvenile lyrical bent. But hey, he’s young, and although in the future he might try a more diplomatic approach to describing adolescent love, it’s nonetheless impressive that Isenberg can turn sheet stains into one of the sweeter love songs of the year. Avi Buffalo wear their musical influences on their sleeves (Built To Spill, the aforementioned Shins, Elephant 6, etc. etc.), and their lyrical direction is more Superbad
than J.D. Salinger, but it’s charming without being cloying, poppy without being overly sugary. Most importantly, it’s the kind of debut that leaves you thrilled for what the future may bring, and that’s something special.