Some musicians wade into recording an album with perfection on their mind. Perfect tone. Perfect mixing. Clear crisp tracks that mesh exquisitely in the mastering process. But a well-produced album isn’t necessarily good and a good album isn’t necessarily well produced. Avi Buffalo’s newest effort, At Best Cuckold, is well produced and thoroughly good, but it is by embracing the idiosyncrasies and flaws of the process that make the effort rise to the occasion.
At Best Cuckold is a jangling, swinging caravan of lush, diverse sounds and arrangements accompanied by Avi Zahner-Isenberg’s effortless tenor. Deeply entrenched in ’70s sensibilities and bursting with surprising harmonies, the album wears its angsty irreverence like a badge of honor. Making Zahner-Isenberg’s sardonic, crass wit all the more disarming.
“I feel like, because it’s a solo project, not a band, making the songs sound really different is enough because it still reflects me and that gives it continuity and that gives me the freedom to try to diversify between songs,” Zahner-Isenberg told FDRMX.
Make no mistake, the album is messy. Shifting the expectations of the listener at every turn. Some tracks are subdued and melancholy (“Can’t Be Too Responsible”), others are bristling homages to a lost folk era in which organ flourishes sound right at home (“Memories of You”). But that blending is part of Avi Buffalo’s seductive charm. Like spices long mixing in a crock pot, every flavor finds its place.
“This record ended up having a lot of sounds that I’ve been interested in for a long time,” added Zahner-Isenberg. “I wanted to get all the early teenage guitar dreams on paper.” A neurotic perfectionist, Zahner-Isenberg experimented heavily during the recording process. He utilized analog preamps, toying with mic placement and blending. At times, he would put up to four mics on a single amp in search of the very best sounds. The result is an eclectic, vibrant recording, teeming with ambition and audacity.
“[It’s the] different hats that you wear, or the different music styles that you wanna include and embody yourself in. I tried to include a lot of things,” said Zahner-Isenberg. “On the first record, I wasn’t able to the guitar tone I wanted. It was great guitar tone, but it was the same throughout.” As if making up for lost time, Zahner-Isenberg set himself to polishing an album that is difficult to define, but perhaps better for it.
But at the bottom of this busy stew is a young guitar virtuoso with an axe to grind (see what I did there?). His disinterest in conventional songwriting is as arresting as his ability to cook up devastating classic rock solos that burn so good, like the wings from which his project got its name.