This review originally appeared on The Thin Air
In this day and age a four year gap between album releases can be viewed as a lifetime for any young band; such is the way music is consumed, and more often than not, spat back out, they very same week. It’s just as easy for a new group to garner positive column inches or be thrown into the world of magazine photo-shoots as fresh cannon fodder, following a critically lauded debut album, as it is for them to implode, or find themselves lost amidst the immediate and frenzied media response.
In Avi Buffalo’s instance they seemed to have it all going for them, when as teenagers the four piece, led by the brash, goofy and horny driven lyricism of Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg, were signed to the infamous Sub Pop label and released their critically acclaimed self-titled debut, in the first half of 2010. Now it wasn’t a case of the band being propelled into the same indie stratosphere such as Bon Iver, Arcade Fire or The Strokes were following their debut releases, but they certainly found themselves on the crest of the proverbial ‘next big thing’ wave, amongst the indie loving scribes.
Has the four year wait dented Avi Buffalo’s hopes of pushing on from their initial success? To be honest the answer is both yes and no. For a start At Best Cuckold is a far more atmospheric and produced sounding album than its predecessor. The onslaught of adulthood has replaced the rawness and innocence of Zahner-Isenberg’s unhinged teenage years, something that was so evident on Avi Buffalo. Zahner-Isenberg has also layered the record with so many snippets of string samples and brass arrangements, ‘Overwhelmed with Pride’ being a prime example, that when sat alongside the jangly guitar licks, bass lines and piano heavy tracks, the word overdub could be substituted with overkill.
It opens with the hazy, upbeat and down right infectious ‘So What’, a tune that highlights Zahner-Isenberg’s ability to pen an enviable melody led number, even though it paints him as frustrated and doleful figure: “I had a dream that you were acting normal/It made me wake up feeling like a stone/And every one had left to go to work/But I knew I had no choice to stay home”. The theme of loneliness continues during delicately woozy and Mercury Rev indebted ‘Two Cherished Understandings’, where Zahner-Isenberg laments; “Told you that I believed in you/Won’t you come on through one more time/I know I loved you/I know I see the rain”.
The fact that the band’s sound is seemingly edging closer to a more sophisticated sound, may explain why some of the lyrical content is a little askew, however quirky it’s meant to be. There is the lustful teenage and innuendo driven ‘Memories of You’; with the frontman warbling; “Hey sweet pie!/My boner pressed up to your chest, I let go…..My cherry pie/Please take my load”, and the downright nonsensical wording of the Jason Lytle sounding ‘Oxygen Tank’; “A man carrying an oxygen tank is gonna come kill me/And my family too, if I don’t stop seeing you”. While the 1970’s folk pop of ‘Think It’s Gonna Happen Again’, sees him rather calmly convey: “Couple nights ago, I ran over two dogs/ Then I ate them after”.
Yes At Best Cuckold sees Avi Buffalo expanding their indie pop-rock sound in somewhat the right direction, while Zahern-Isenberg’s writing has improved, for the most part. However there are times you’re just willing the songs to just kick off, rather than mostly plodding along in third gear, something that is evident throughout, no matter how much overdubbing and layering is concocted in the studio.