Album Review: Avi Buffalo – ‘Avi Buffalo’ (Sub Pop)

The second summer of Sub Pop blooms into a bittersweet, magnificent debut album

Say what you like about Americans – eg having pancakes for breakfast really can’t be beneficial to a balanced diet – when it comes to indie rock there’s isn’t anyone better at it. This week’s reminder of that fact is Avi Buffalo. Four teenagers from Long Beach, California, who spearhead a new wave of bands (Dum Dum Girls, Happy Birthday) who are each propelling the iconic Seattle label Sub Pop back to its former glories.

Avi Buffalo are led by a 19-year-old songwriting genius called Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg and all the songs on his band’s debut are about a young man undergoing a mental collapse. But, for all his fragility, Avi is as good a songwriter as anyone who’s ever traded under Sub Pop’s logo. And that’s quite a claim.

Alongside schoolfriends Arin Fazio and Sheridan Riley on bass and drums, Avi’s girlfriend Rebecca Coleman sings back-up and plays keyboards; her reedy but pretty voice going some way to disguise her beau’s torments. Take this line from ‘Summer Cum’: “Go on and tell your friends how I can’t rearrange my skin/They’ve made up stories based on me so everyone could feel at ease”, frets Avi, who sings a little bit like Daniel Johnston and Mark Linkous’ lovechild.

There’s a lot of prettying up of this darkness going on, much of it by Avi himself; his guitar playing – akin to Johnny Marr playing a Tortoise song – give the likes of ‘Remember Last Time’, and the record’s best song ‘What’s In It For?’ a zig-zagging fluidity.

It’s often reported that Mark Arm, Mudhoney frontman and former punk rock Lord of the Pacific Northwest, still works at Sub Pop as their warehouse manager. Remembering the days when the label would print T shirts saying ‘WHAT PART OF NO MONEY DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND’ to ward off bailiffs must make him feel old. The arrival of Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg on the scene must make him feel ancient.

James McMahon

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Click here to get your copy of ‘Avi Buffalo’s ‘Avi Buffalo’ from the Rough Trade shop