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. Then I ate them afterwards”. Sweet and sour is the dominant flavour of the album, cooing shades of Elliott Smith and Crosby, Stills & Nash in one ear, then a whispered dirty joke in the other. Witness centrepiece ‘Overwhelmed With Pride’ with its flourishes of French horn and swirling organs. Close your eyes and picture Kermit The Frog singing it, nephew Robin on stringy green knee, a ping-pong ball-eyed menagerie bouncing around doing the backing vocals. Then you get to the line that goes, “And these birds seem so fucking free, they’re nothing compared to me”, which doesn’t seem like the kind of thing Kermit would say at all.
More than on their lauded debut ‘Avi Buffalo’, the Californian group is now a benevolent dictatorship under Zahner-Isenberg’s watch, the album completed by the 23-year-old largely as a solo concern. In 2010, when that self-titled LP came out, he was presented as something of a prodigy, signed to Sub Pop as a teenager with a record of sublimely sunny, prematurely mature pop. But he seemed to struggle with being the indie star-in-waiting he was supposed to be, and an in-band relationship with keyboard player Rebecca Coleman was followed by her departure. Those following him on Tumblr – where he’s recently taken to posting his own erotic sketches – might wonder if he’s disappeared down the rabbit hole altogether. Yet four years later, his outfit have returned with an album that skirts close to perfection in its 35 minutes of glorious madness and transcendent, George Harrison-like guitar solos. Welcome Avi Buffalo back into your life now. Just keep him away from the pets.