Review – Avi Buffalo “At Best Cuckold”

Four years ago Avi Buffalo, a California-based indie pop act spearheaded by singer-songwriter Avi Zahner-Isenberg, released their self-titled debut. It was an instantly appealing release; an album chock full of hummable, catchy hooks and cheeky songwriting. After this release, however, the band went silent until earlier this year. On September 10th, the band released their sophomore record “At Best Cuckold” on Sub Pop Records. Right out of the gate, the album revs into “So What”, a driving, fluid pop gem that recalls the winsome, doe-eyed wonder of their debut. After this, songs like “Memories of You” and “Overwhelmed With Pride” offer similar rewards, brimming with delicate, careful melodies and expert songcraft.

The only thing that feels off with these tracks is the lyrics. Like other indie acts like Mac Demarco and Real Estate did earlier this year, the formerly fun-loving and carefree Avi Buffalo have tried to develop their songwriting in a more mature direction. However, this is undermined by uncomfortable, sometimes cringe-worthy lyricism, an issue that crops up continually throughout the whole album. The bizarre lyrical non sequiturs employed in these songs often undermine any emotional connection the listener might feel, with Avi singing lines like “Bitch, I’m on fire/ You got magnum desire/ I’m a cheese ball on fire until the morning dew,” preventing the actually compelling meditations on the difficulties of growing up and the changing nature of relationships present in other songs from shining.

And, unfortunately, on a musical level, the enjoyable first few tracks eventually give way to a noticeably flabbier back half. The second half of the album is weighed down by a number of sub-par tracks, lacking in interesting ideas or focus. “Oxygen Tank” in particular does not impress, spending the entirety of its bummed-out and belabored five minute-plus running time simply spinning its wheels, failing to present any compelling reason for its presence on the album. Horn and string arrangements abound on the track, but they can’t save a song that lacked any steam to run out of in the first place. Avi Buffalo’s self-titled debut album featured the charming, soft singing of Rebecca Coleman, who served as a welcome counterpart to Avi’s roaming, high-pitched vocals. Her absence on this record is a shame, as Avi’s vocals start to grow a little tiresome after a while without anyone else to give him a break.

When Avi Buffalo plays to its strengths, the album works well. The guitar playing is as tight and zippy as ever, and Avi still possesses a keen ear for melodic pop songcraft, a knack which shows in a few of the better tracks here. Still, I couldn’t help but walk away from this one feeling a little disappointed with the unwieldy lyricism, plodding monotony, and lack of variety present on a lot of the tracks here, especially in light of their extremely promising debut album. Listeners suffering through the cheesy lyrics and half-baked musical ideas on the album’s weaker songs may find their patience even more strained than Avi’s vocal chords.

Favorite Tracks: So What, Memories of You, Overwhelmed With Pride