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Avi Buffalo: Cheeseballs on Fire!

Posted by November 18th, 2014 No Comments »

Avi Buffalo – At Best Cuckold
Sub Pop Records (2014) 
By Chandler Strutz

Sub Pop’s Avi Buffalo released its sophomore album, At Best Cuckold, back in September.

There is some confusion to whether to say “he” or “they” when referring to Avi Buffalo, founded and fronted by songwriter Avi Zahner-Isenberg. The project is a “full-fledged outfit that works something like a solo project in the studio and then builds into a band onstage,” according the official Sub Pop bio.

The single, “Memories of You” has the feel of Figure 8 era Elliott Smith, with layered piano and guitar riffs akin to present-day Wilco. Pretty shreddy guitar solo at the end, too. While the song has an upbeat-but-still-melancholy vibe, the lyrics are not so consistent.

Avi writes from personal experience, but does it in a way that seems offhanded, characterized by lines like “I’m a cheeseball on fire” or “my boner pressed up to your chest.” (“bones are pressed,” according to the lyrics page, but tell me that’s not what he says).

In a similar fashion, the rest of the album takes on a whirlwind of emotions, with slower tracks like “Two Cherished Understandings” and more good-time jams like “Found Blind.” The whole experience ends with “Won’t Be Around No More,” a mellow track that slams you with a dark, fuzz-guitar line towards the end.

Instrumentally the songwriting is air-tight, but many tracks seem to have several lyrical themes. Jumping around in a stream-of-thought manner, Zahner-Isenberg worries about life’s problems: loneliness, ambition, self-doubt, drugs, and heartbreak, to name a few.

At times the lyrics mirror the quirkiness of artists like Of Montreal, or maybe that one Vampire Weekend song where they reference Lil’ John…though they sometimes spill into a category closer to Lil’ John himself, leaving no doubt whatsoever that the songwriter has had sex and done drugs. But what do you expect from a big shot twenty-three year old musician?

The blunt imagery can be both charming and distracting. It borders between brutal honesty and insincerity. If you hardly ever pay attention to the words of a song this might be JUST the album for you, but you’d also be missing the dissonance the songwriter is trying to achieve. If you’re like me and lyrics are your jam, be prepared for something of an enigma–moments of brilliance followed up by poorly executed risks. It’s definitely thought-provoking, if not always enjoyable.

Give Avi Buffalo’s At Best Cuckold a shot for its intricate arrangements, stark honesty, and moments of grandeur. Not for the faint of heart.

The band’s current tour brings them to the Sunset on November 20 and Doug Fir Lounge (Portland) on the November 22.

Chandler Strutz (Portland, Oregon) spends most of his time pensively staring out windows and contemplating life’s toughest issues–like what ever happened to Squeeze Its? When not writing his own songs, Chandler tries not to be too much of a dick to other artists who are putting their work out for everyone to criticize. 

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