Avi Buffalo At Best Cuckold

[Sub Pop; 2014]

Styles: twee, indie pop, boys, girls, college
Others: Death Cab For Cutie, Withered Hand, your friend’s band in high school

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.

What is noticed first upon this return? The voice, I’m afraid. It would be stronger were it more artfully covered and concealed, as it had been. But the voice, now so out in the open and almost ashamedly nude (recalling the album’s title), reminds one of Death Cab for Cutie or something more painfully twee from the early 2000s. Without the mask of the lower-fi, as if out of a dream-turned-nightmare, the captivating, genderless whine of Avi Buffalo is, on At Best Cuckold, revealed to be the voice of just another dude with an acoustic guitar. And, of course (remember, this is a 2014 comeback album), higher-fi embellishments looming always behind. Strings, decadence, some safe distortion.

The more tender moments on At Best Cuckold call to mind the charming, always-clever, always-sad indie-folk of Scotland’s Withered Hand. That comparison is a high compliment. So there is a disparity here: sometimes Avi Buffalo’s entrance into the gauntlet of the undisguised voice leads to a pretty song or two, maybe a moment of blissful pop; but more often than not, the songs whimper without much intelligible emotion. “Memories of You” is a prime example, and with such an early position (track two), I had some trouble willing myself to continue. There are rewards, though: “Two Cherished Understandings” is short, smart, and sad. As I listen to that song or to lead single “So What,” I wonder why the rest of the album couldn’t have gone the same way. I always feel such frustration with albums like this: a few good songs, a few moments I’d be happy never to hear again, a few foggy unnoticeables.

I wish I had more to say. Listen to “So What,” listen to “Two Cherished Understandings,” listen to the band’s self-titled debut, which now feels just so young and sparkling. Then listen to Withered Hand’s Good News or New Gods, both of which feel closer to the Platonic Ideal of this probably-too-often-practiced genre. Maybe I’m not getting it, maybe it’s a failing on my behalf, maybe I’ve lost my soul. Gonna go write a song on my high school senior year Christmas-gift acoustic guitar.

Links: Avi Buffalo - Sub Pop

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