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In honour of the great whispering one, Bob Harris, who celebrates the 40th anniversary since his first BBC broadcast this week, another band I've discovered through his brilliant shows. Congratulations Bob!
Avi Buffalo is the pseudonym of nineteen year old Californian Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg. It's also the name of the four-piece of which he is the chief songwriter and lead vocalist. That the band hail from California is immediately apparent; their self-titled debut album has a laid back summery feel with liberal helpings of Beach Boys harmonies and a clean cut sound that belies the quirky, often surreal, nature of their lyrics. The songs are a snapshot of key moments in a young adult's life and Avi has brilliantly captured those rites of passage moments in the life of a slightly nerdy teen; that fact that the songs are written in the here and now make this album so pleasing because usually these defining life moments are written about in retrospect.
Musically the album is a trip back in time to the 1960s with the key sounds being jangly guitars and reedy organ; the guitar lines in particular reminded me of Simon and Garfunkel's more upbeat numbers and Avi's voice is not unlike Paul Simon's at times. Mostly, though, his voice is reminiscent of the distinctive falsetto of Neil Young and musically, too, the band often veers in this direction. There's no denying the highly derivative nature of the album but Avi Buffalo puts together these influences in such a compelling way that you have to forgive it; besides it's so much fun to sit and listen shouting out "The Shins! No, Mercury Rev! Now it's The Flaming Lips!"
Piano player and co-vocalist Rebecca Coleman plays an important part in the album; the songs essentially chart the relationship between Coleman and Zahner-Isenberg, more crush on Avi's part but beautifully recounted here with the bonus that in song-land the guy gets the girl. Their voices work so well together; a little Joanna Newsome at times, Coleman's breathy voice blends in with Avi on tracks like "Where's Your Dirty Mind?" but at other times the harmonies the two create are exceptionally evocative.
"What's in it for me?" is the album's stand out track and has garnered much radio interest. The melody gets in your head and stays there for days; it's easy to switch off from the lyrics and soak up the glorious guitars but with quirky lines like "You are tiny and lips are like pieces of bacon" it's criminal to ignore the often surreal nature of Avi's words.
"Five Little Sluts" starts out a little lounge-y, a little jazzy but develops into another infectious number with perfects ups and downs that, towards the end drifts off into something like a Caribbean steel band - bizarre but it really works. "One Last" is a cutesy sounding folksy number that really shows of Coleman's voice to the full, slightly reed but wonderfully clear, a little reminiscent of ex-Catatonia's Cerys Matthews; the piano line reminds me of soundtracks from old silent movies.
"Can't I Know" is Mercury Rev through and through, quiet and breathy but really insignificant in comparison with some of the other tracks and perhaps shouldn't have made the final cut. It's not the album's only mistake, but it's the most noticeable. A couple of songs have ill-conceived solos that go on a little too long but appear to be there to lend some kind of gravity to the musicianship. It's not needed, these youngsters can really play.
"Remember the Last Time" is a gloriously upbeat song with lyrics that encapsulate the sentiment of the album as a whole "I've never written a love song but I will for you." The tempo changes are a joy and Avi's guitar work - shades of Johnny Marr here - make this one of the most musically interesting songs on the album. The solo is undeniably long but is uplifting and shows what a great guitarist Avi is.
Such are the musical references that it's difficult to talk about Avi Buffalo without listing half a dozen names, taking a breath and doing it again. But the band is young and they have plenty of time to refine their style and take only the most important bits with them. The band is signed to Sub Pop (historic home to the likes of Nirvana and Mudhoney) which is no mean feat. There are many who'll say that Avi Buffalo don't belong there but that's to underplay Avi Buffalo's engaging indie pop. Derivative yes, but unique. The perfect summer album.
Listen here http://www.myspace.com/avibuffalo
Catch them next weekend at Reading/Leeds if you're going.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Truth Sets In
2 What's In It For
4 Five Little Sluts
6 Summer Cum
7 One Last
8 Can't I Know
9 Remember Last Time
10 Where's Your Dirty Mind