Long Beach foursome delivers with impressive debut
Here‚Äôs a band with respect for its musical elders, playing sincere pop rock with a steadfast dedication to freak-folk delivery and a pleasant penchant for irony.
Thus far, the band described is of a pretty standard garage band ilk these days. So what sets Avi Buffalo apart?
For starters, its song ‚ÄúSummer Cum‚ÄĚ is potentially the catchiest song ever written on the titular subject. And although the similarly infectious runner-up for that distinction ‚ÄúRelax‚ÄĚ left the group Frankie Goes To Hollywood wallowing in one-hit wonderdom, this track‚Äôs rambling whine, jangly guitars and steady drums transcend the charm to expose an unexpected musical maturity.
From the superb opening lines ‚ÄĒ I‚Äôve waited for your love / I got lost in your summer cum / Leave all your stains with me / and know that I will never be ‚ÄĒ to the warped analog tape sounds that cap the track, ‚ÄúSummer Cum‚ÄĚ is an absolutely delightful pop song, and, for the most part, it revels in like company on the album.
The self-titled album, the group‚Äôs first release on indie label behemoth Sub Pop, is really its first release ever. The bandmates sold CDs at shows in their hometown of Long Beach, Calif. and during a residency at the Echo, but Sub Pop inked this foursome without seeing a release with packaging, artwork or very many songs.
Noting the obvious potential of the fledgling group‚Äôs small but potent body of work, the influential label released ‚ÄúWhat‚Äôs It In For?‚ÄĚ as the band‚Äôs debut single in December and made certain this self-titled affair would be available for early summer mixtapes.
That single demonstrates not only an astonishing musicality and grasp of pop structure, but it‚Äôs simply a good time. And it‚Äôs not without obvious prowess ‚ÄĒ the band simultaneously comes off as professional and musically loose.
Mixing business and pleasure must come easy to the group‚Äôs lead singer, guitarist and principal songwriter Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg. The writer is genius, tossing out songs of heartbroken torment and teenage misery with the blas√© fluidity of someone writing a poem about his puppy.
Rebecca Coleman‚Äôs shimmering keys and lighthearted backup vocals lay a beautiful sheen over Avi‚Äôs pained lyrics and tortured Johnny Marr-style guitar. Bassist Arin Fazio and drummer Sheridan Riley keep the whole show zigzagging forward, nicely centering the polarized styles of Avi and Rebecca.
What sets Avi Buffalo apart is the same thing that sets all great bands apart: When these four gifted musicians bring their disparate talents together, the resultant sounds are magnificent, preternatural and truthful.
‚ÄúRemember Last Time‚ÄĚ is a fully realized example of this beautiful cohesion. The track follows two sleepy folk gems and is a layered masterpiece that brings childish energy to the up-tempo Neil Young delivery. Even at more than seven minutes long, the begging, desperate love letter is a rousing track with more to discover on each listen.
The discovery and newness that carry through repeated listenings seem to answer Avi‚Äôs question to the object of his desperation: How did I really last? How soon / were you sick of me too?
Unfortunately, the cohesive perfection achieved on some songs makes those tracks that narrowly miss flawlessness all the more frustrating.
‚ÄúWhere‚Äôs Your Dirty Mind,‚ÄĚ for instance, is clever and touching but exasperatingly incomplete. The first section shows potential, but its sparseness nervously inculcates a feeling that this song might not reach its emotional peak. Indeed, when the guitar solo comes in sans Rebecca‚Äôs pounding keys and with little input from Fazio or Riley, the music is ‚ÄĒ for the first time on the album ‚ÄĒ boring. It isn‚Äôt a bad song; it‚Äôs a great song that wasn‚Äôt done just right. Performed live, with all the elements of the band blended with the intelligent, droll lyrics, this song could be among the band‚Äôs best.
Without prior releases to compare, it is often easier to give magnanimous praise to a group‚Äôs debut album. The thought of subsequent Avi Buffalo albums certainly sounds exciting, and though this album will be a point of comparison, it‚Äôs not a mere stepping-stone for the group. A few albums into its future, referring to this as a ‚Äúpromising debut‚ÄĚ will be gratuitous and laughable.
This debut is a great album in its own right. And barring any unforeseen setbacks, it will be one of many great albums from a group that has already fulfilled its promise and burst into the collective music consciousness as a great band.
What sets Avi Buffalo apart is that it has already established its talent, accessibility and passion for the craft. The only thing that‚Äôs left is the success that‚Äôs sure to follow.