Someone who can write the line “You are tiny and your lips are like little pieces of bacon” and make it sound like it’s the most fucking romantic thing to say ever must be a genius. Avi Zahner-Isenberg, operating as ‘Avi Buffalo’, did it when he was still a teenager. One of the virtues of a true genius, however, is that they don’t just come up with lines like that as if it’s nothing. Avi Buffalo worked for years on his debut and it took another four years for him to finally deliver his second album.
I have been trying to describe what it is about Avi Buffalo that makes me feel in a very specific way. Words like ‘honest’ and ‘pure’ are contenders, but in the end, they don’t quite capture what I mean. The epynomous first album sounded like puberty in 10 songs, including just as much references to love as to sex. But At Best Cuckold is different (not to say that it is not a very horny album, containing lines such as “my boner pressed up to your chest”). But contrary to Avi Buffalo, it gives me the feeling that I am not living in a teenage wasteland. It may be part of becoming an adult to realise that things do matter, because these are years we cannot relive and feelings felt are feelings that you will never get back. It is nostalgia, but about the present, rather than the past. Maybe the word I am looking for is ‘futility’.
It is a feeling of not knowing where to go. Some random lines on the album that I remember are “Fuck am I supposed to do?”, “Will something happen to me in the menantime?”, “Can’t be too responsible”, and other lyrics in a similar spirit. On ‘Overwhelmed with Pride’, Avi introspectively sings “And these’s birds seems so fucking free / They are nothing compared to me”. But he doesn’t sound free. He sounds afraid. And of course he is right. What is more frightening than the realisation that you have a choice and that it matters? Avi Buffalo gives a voice to this feeling universally felt by young people, a feeling that used to lack a melody, but got stuck in your body nonetheless. He does it in his trademark style: a nearly-falsetto singing style that makes him sound like he’s just had a breakdown and the salt from his dried-up tears is softly hurting his cheeks, accompanied by a glam-rock guitar without glitter. Avi’s perfectionism is audible, both in the sheer quality of every single song and in the attention for detail that is approximately infinite. Yes, At Best Cuckold does sound smooth and produces all over, but that only increases the contrast between memories of youth and experiences of growing up.
Sometimes, Avi Buffalo makes me think of Belle & Sebastian. Especially the following line keeps coming back in my head: “He had a stroke at the age of 24 / It could have been a brilliant career.” A stroke – a stroke of genius, that is – is what you might call At Best Cuckold. It’s only the fact that Avi’s career already is brilliant at his 24th that doesn’t fit the song .I also remember some nights looking up at the stars, feeling small, as one does when he looks up at the stars, but also happy and sad in general and slightly confused about the world and yourself. I am talking about the Big Feelings, though even those Big Feelings are small compared to everything else. I think Avi Buffalo is writing about the same feelings. With his record on your iPod, you are able to look up at the stars in your small college bedroom.
-- Caspar Jacobs, October 21, 2014