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Artist: Avi Buffalo

Album: Avi Buffalo

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Apr. 27, 2010


Avi Buffalo - "Whats In It For?" (What's In It For? 7")


It’s not the first thing one notices when looking through physical copies of Avi Buffalo’s debut, but it does catch the eye: liner notes. More than that, even: for all intents and purposes, this is a mission statement, with Avi Zahner-Isenberg recounting the history of Avi Buffalo from their formation as his solo project to their signing to Sub Pop and beyond. It’s oddly comprehensive, even as its tone ups the level of naiveté just a touch; at times, it reads like the wide-eyed teen-film adaptation of the band’s history, which may well be the intention. Zahner-Isenberg is just 19 years old, but he’s a wise 19. On learning of Sub Pop’s interest, he writes that he “began to question everything about [his] music and the record that now could reach a much larger audience than expected.” While there’s some sense of the ingenue as he tells of the album’s origins, Zahner-Isenberg knows what he’s doing, both in terms of his songwriting ability and his creation of a distinct persona.

Avi Buffalo’s sound seems gently evasive of a historical period. At times, this album could pass for a mid-1990s contemporary of the softly-spoken indie pop of Holiday. At others, when the guitar’s melodies become more prominent and the sweeps cinematic, Avi Buffalo’s signing to the one-time home of the Shins and Band of Horses is equally understandable. Zahner-Isenberg has a voice that can waver convincingly but still hold up on the louder numbers. And his vocal interplay with Rebecca Coleman on the plaintive, jangling “One Last” makes it one of Avi Buffalo’s most memorable songs.

Elsewhere, “What’s In It For?” is the rabble-rousing anthemic one. “Where’s Your Dirty Mind” is the intimate, off-key recollection of heartbreak that caps the album. And on "Summer Cum," when Zahner-Isenberg sings, “It’s not the age I feel when by your side,” he sums up the intentional awkwardness in many of these songs.

In those liner notes, Zahner-Isenberg writes of playing early shows as part of a series called Outsider Folk. That “outsider” tag provides a context for some of the more outrageous elements used here, but the album’s pleasures come more from Zahner-Isenberg’s knowledge of, and skill at, a more traditional songcraft. The band comes together neatly, covering a range that encompasses stripped-down recordings and wider-canvas anthems. Avi Buffalo make songs that, at their best, remain lodged in one’s head for days.

By Tobias Carroll

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