Release Date: Sep 9, 2014
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Fans of Tim Burton movies know that a touch of darkness is most effective when candy-coated. So it is for Avi Buffalo’s hugely accomplished ‘At Best Cuckold’, a record that documents the spiralling weirdness of one young man’s psyche via a cascade of gorgeous melody. The prime example of this is ‘Think It’s Gonna Happen Again’ where, in a butter-wouldn’t-melt falsetto, and over plinky plonky piano, frontman Avi Zahner-Isenberg sings, “Couple nights ago, I ran over two dogs.
As far as album titles go, At Best Cuckold couldn’t be a more appropriate way for Avi Buffalo frontman Avi Zahner-Isenberg to mortify himself and think that he ought to renounce his happiness. His self-defeatist attitude stems from a place of fear and unworthiness, a slightly disturbed songwriter who does not suppress any inner “too-much-information” turmoil that causes him to revisit his past hurts. These unfiltered thoughts were flowing in and out of his consciousness on his self-titled LP, who was then a nineteen year old writing sunburnt folk songs that showed a wisdom far beyond his years.
The second long-player from the West Coast indie pop confectioners led by Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg, whose fondness for buffalo wings yielded the nickname that would become the band's moniker, At Best Cuckold lays to rest any notions of a sophomore slump, offering up a dizzying ten-track set of warm and weird, immaculately crafted psych-pop gems that blend the shifty art rock of MGMT with the refined pop acumen of Sufjan Stevens. Designed and directed by Isenberg and recorded with Jay Pellicci (the Dodos, Deerhoof, Sleater-Kinney), At Best Cuckold begins innocuously enough with the breezy "So What," a California sunset-ready highway (soft) rocker that lulls the listener into submission, a trajectory that's furthered by the Thunderclap Newman-inspired "Memories of You" and the Neil Young-kissed "Two Cherished Understandings. " '70s folk-pop and rock may form the foundation of Avi Buffalo's sound, but Isenberg isn't content with simply re-imagining the past, and At Best Cuckold is at its most triumphant when it circumvents pastiche and goes for the throat, both emotionally and sonically.
It feels warped to relish such fragility, but the anxieties and polluted imagination of Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg are enthralling, if worrying. Four years after his acclaimed debut, Avi is 23 and overwhelmed by the enormity of life – he envies “the fucking free birds” that fly above, and the impending mania of depression is detailed brilliantly on Think It’s Gonna Happen Again. Set to crooked Americana, he explores vivid daydreams – of a man carrying an oxygen tank who is going to kill him and his family (Oxygen Tank) – and, it seems, some lewd post-relationship recollections: “My boner press/ up to your chest” (Memories of You).
Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg is a teenage dirtbag, baby. He cannot hide this fact, whether or not you recognize his distinct vocal similarity to one of the lesser bucket-hatted one-hit wonders. Zahner-Isenberg was 19 when Avi Buffalo released their auspicious and "really, really horny" debut, and the four years leading up to At Best Cuckold have taken him well past drinking age.
Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg is the primary brain behind Avi Buffalo, and rightfully so: his perpetual horniness and pubescent wisecracking charm are all-consuming. There are 10 tracks on the band’s second album At Best Cuckold, and all of them either drip with innuendo or carefully stack one-liner atop one-liner. His silliness softens and even plies the stiffness of his strange appeal.
Nearly five years after the release of their self-titled debut album, an eternity in this fast-paced musical consumption climate, Avi Buffalo are finally ready to unleash their sophomore effort, At Best Cuckold. Founder, lead singer and songwriter and guitarist Avi Zahner-Isenberg enlisted long-time collaborator Sheridan Riley and multi-instrumentalist John Anderson to help produce an album that, while not necessarily a departure from Avi Buffalo's debut, expands on ideas and sounds that were already present. Zahner-Isenberg has a fondness for overdubbing, made apparent throughout the ten songs, that creates a multi-layered and emotionally expansive end product.
At Best Cuckold, the second album from Californian singer-songwriter Avi Zahner-Isenberg's indie folk four piece Avi Buffalo, is a delicate, conflicted creature. Back in 2010, the band's self-titled debut was released when Zahner-Isenberg was just 19 and barely out of secondary education. Avi Buffalo struck a chord when artists such as Local Natives and Bon Iver were at the peak of the transatlantic indie 'mainstream' – only for the band to disappear off completely for nearly half a decade.
People often characterize the sophomore slump as a running out of ideas following an artist’s debut, where a second effort amounts to a diluted version of the first without any of the life or energy that made it worthwhile in the first place. A far more pervasive and yet less obvious syndrome is that of a band not moving forward or backward in the development of their sound, but to the side. This seems to be the case with Avi Buffalo’s second album, At Best Cuckold, in which the band makes an honorable grab for a cleaner, more accessible and perhaps even mainstream sound, unfortunately losing the offbeat charm of their debut in the process.
‘At Best Cuckold’, is intended as a hopelessly romantic album. It’s hopeless in that the lyrics read like exerpts from a scribbled diary hidden under a mattress, and there’s something deliberately overwrought about the amount of lofty texturing going on at every turn. The persistent ambition and craving for texture that dominates, though, might just be the heat melting down Avi Buffalo’s waxy wings as he flies towards the sun.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Four years ago, Californian twee-poppers Avi Buffalo managed to capture the spirit of the dog days of summer in their magnificent self-titled debut. It explored the confusion and angst of first serious love, the unknown future, and everything else someone on the cusp of adulthood might worry about, all set against a backdrop of those last summer holidays of freedom.
Critics are always looking out for both the next best band and which one will crash and burn in the sophomore slump. Avi Buffalo became one of the next best bands with their strong eponymous debut, and now it’s time for the young Californians to face the fire with their sophomore album, At Best Cuckold. It’s enough to withstand the flames and pressure, but it doesn’t seem like enough to push them another step higher.
Four years is not a short amount of time. The years are moving quicker, it feels, but in our generation’s paradox, more and more is made and consumed each year. Avi Buffalo, at the time of their first album’s release, felt like a promising force among an internet’s worth of indie pop startups. Four years later, having slept through what feels like a century of music, Avi Buffalo roam back onto the prairie, cleaner and more frontman-driven than when we last heard them.
The qualities Avi Zahner-Isenberg showed on his first album in 2010 are very much in evidence on this, his second. Furthermore, both he and the band appear to have gained confidence from that first outing. The more direct language that characterised much of the earlier effort here often gives way to the more oblique that hints at the background to a scenario and at a range of simultaneously-held feelings,successfully conveying the impression of a protagonist not quite sure of himself, despite the vigour (or the bluff) of the presentation.
There’s something either incredibly bold or incredibly sad about self-identifying as a cuckold at best. Avi Buffalo wants you to think it’s both. The California band’s sophomore album is equal parts newly emerged confidence and moody self-deprecation. It’s not neatly packaged though; the emotions melt and blur into each other, creating a sense of unease, of sitting in someone else’s seat.