“What’s in it for someone with nothing to do? What’s in it for me?” asks Avigdnor Zahner-Isenberg in the debut single of his band Avi Buffalo. Indeed, Avi Buffalo was apparently born out of times when Zahner-Isenberg had nothing to do. He started recording at his Long Beach home, using free software on his PC. In fact, it may have been his parents’ PC: Zahner-Isenberg was just 18 when former Elliott Smith associate Aaron Embry invited him and bandmate Sheridan Riley to try out his new studio to record “What’s in It For?” Soon after Zahner-Isenberg posted it online, he found himself signing a contract with Sub Pop Records.
You can see why Sub Pop jumped at the chance: Avi Buffalo’s 2010 debut album has the quirky songwriting and pleasantly murky production that made the Shins so endearing on their Sub Pop debut a decade ago. But Avi Buffalo has more going for it than charm. Zahner-Isenberg’s guitar parts are so gentle and melodic that you may not realize at first how impressive his playing is. The backing vocals add an air of dreamy melancholy. Meanwhile, his squeaky lead vocals often sound like a 13-year-old Wayne Coyne. Also suggesting puberty are song titles such as “Five Little Sluts,” “Summer Cum,” and “Where’s Your Dirty Mind?” So, yeah, I guess you could say this act is still developing.
Avi Buffalo is working on its follow-up, and if last year’s single “How Come?” is any indication, Avi Buffalo is heading in the direction of a sophisticated indie pop. Zahner-Isenberg’s voice still sings like a boy whose voice hasn’t quite broken, but his songwriting shows signs of growing up.
AVI BUFFALO: Soda Bar, Tuesday, August 7, 8:30 p.m. 619-255-7224. $10.