Sub Pop has to be one of the only remaining record labels whose history and influence still overshadows the music it hosts. It’s a logo every self-respecting Music Lover should know, stamped discreetly on the backs of albums they should all own. Taking a step back, that looks like quite a cross to bear for Avi Buffalo; a group barely old enough to have even heard, let alone appreciate, the significance of music landmarks like Bleach, Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge; even Nevermind.
Undoubtedly, there will be quite a few drooling with all kinds of verbose excitement over the Long Beach, California natives. Even more will be quick to recognise Avi Buffalo as The Next Shins. And there’s probably something in all this. The prima facie similarities are all there. Buffalo’s music is sweetly psychedelic, basically acoustic and orange-hued. Vocals are double-tracked, often in falsetto or soprano and are hard to make out. Like their labelmates, Buffalo also ingest the clement atmosphere of their coastal surroundings and inculcate this effortlessly into their music. Like Oh, Inverted World, this album’s insouciant breeze will happily accompany beers and joints in the summer months or at least act as a reminder of what that feels like for winter-stricken non-Californians.
Like the Shins, Avi Buffalo’s melodies are lovably obscure, without ever being nauseatingly immediate. Although the pretty jangle of opening tracks Truth Sets In and What’s In It For? will probably bring on a familiar smile for some, it may, conversely, have listeners grate their teeth over the saccharine, adolescent unpleasantness of it all. At the root of this kind of dismissive snobbery will surely be envy of the sort that refuses to believe that a band so young (Buffalo’s central figure, Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg, is just 18) can immediately be backed by a label so top of the food chain as Sub Pop.
And yes, this will be a band rightly embarrassed by how quickly things have happened for them. But there’s something refreshing about that fact that they’ve not spent years on the dole, gone through multiple addictions, been incarcerated, suffered abuse at the hands of a cult, or talked or bred their way into it.
As difficult as it may be to digest, Avi Buffalo are polite, educated kids with unaffected backgrounds, making polite, well-written and unaffected music that, in the classical Young And American Band vein, puts the easy-hard, often vertiginous nature of being teenage at the heart of what they are. On the surface it can feel like a well-trodden formula: kid mulls over lost love hormonal baggage to a sonic framework that takes weed blowbacks and pills. But this is an album as hallmarked by the band’s musical maturity as it is by its lyrical naivety. With all talk of the Shins, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Neil Young, Love and The Byrds are a substantial influence on this record.
Even if Avi Buffalo’s closeness to the Shins ends with this album’s one-girl linear narrative, that’s not to say it isn’t lyrically of interest. Ironically, Zahner-Isenberg’s slant on things lovelorn and lusting is undoubtedly touched by James Mercer‘s taste for the semantically unpalatable and occasionally left of field. And like Mercer, Zahner-Isenberg finds a way to weave word-heavy, non-rhyming verses together.
During the playfully adolescent Summer Cum, Zahner-Isenberg tells his love to “Leave all your stains with me,” and confesses: “I tell you day and night / that I can feel you with my right hand / go and tell all your friends / how I can rearrange my skin.” It’s an innocent, if dirty-minded wit that makes this album more likeable than it should ever be. For those that can stand the fact that this lot really do possess some talent, this might be another slice of Sub Pop to add to the collection.