Nate Cole

Nate Cole

Nate Cole didn’t just fall out of a tree being able to sing like he does — with youthful fragility, gravity-defying beauty and emotional depth. He’s been at it since he was a teenager, and the singer-songwriter’s solo album “Bad Beat” (out this week) is but Chapter 4 in what has turned into a seemingly hard-luck story.

“My musical history is sorta like the opposite of that Drake song,” Cole says via email. “I started from the top and now I’m here.” He adds — with an “LOL” — “at the bottom.”

Or as Cole’s friend, singer-songwriter Micah James says, “Thirty-something years old and still coming of age.”

His state of things is a matter of perspective, of course. But it is true that nine years ago last month Cole’s photo was on the front page of the Los Angeles Times entertainment section as one of a handful of emerging bands — in his case, Castledoor — who were taking L.A. by storm. (Some of the others included the Airborne Toxic Event, No Age and Delta Spirit.) Castledoor was an indie-pop sextet that included Cole’s teenage bandmate Gabe Combs, their wives Lisa and Coury, drummer Joel Plotnik and Brandon Schwartzel (now the bassist in FIDLAR). Cole and Combs sang in the band Plus One, which had a gold record in 2000.

Fast forward to now: “It’s been 17 years since I graduated high school and joined a boy band. Half of my life ago,” says Cole, who after Castledoor’s demise made music with his wife as the duo Doom & Gloom. “In hindsight it’s easy to see how the chain of events are connected. My life is a constant reaction, or overreaction, to whatever came before. It’s impossible to summarize these experiences. The biggest thrill, and relief, is that I wrote a whole lot of it down and cried it out on my debut solo record.”

The style-shifting “Bad Beat” showcases not only Cole’s still-pristine voice but his emotionally direct lyrical sense. In the song “Tunnel at the End of the Light,” for instance, he sings, “Memories are few / they stretch the truth / failure’s conveniently out of view.”

The first single “Sera” is a paean to renewal. “I’ve always been a heart-on-my-sleeve writer,” Cole says. “‘Sera’ is a true story, dressed in intimate and specific imagery. I’d prefer not to explain the magic out of it, because I think the overall themes are relatable.” - Buzz Bands LA

Tenlons Fort

What started as a noise letter to a friend in 1995, Tenlons Fort has become a four album song cycle of musician, writer, director, artist and human rights activist Jack Gibson. The latest release Shelters LP consists of ten songs, an equal number of paintings.

After years of following the melancholic muse resulting in the first three releases The Golden Handshake, Followed By Bad Luck and Forever is a Long Time, Tenlons Fort replaces the meditations of death and doom, with tales of wisdom, patience, and clarity without leaving the emotional territory that has made him an underground favorite since 2005.

Avi Buffalo

Embarking upon a sophomore effort can be a daunting task for any young upstart, and there’s no denying Avi Buffalo’s own bar was set quite high with 2010’s celebrated eponymous debut. Fear not, dear fans/family/friends/friends of friends/newcomers, there’s nothing in this tale about The Second Album—a.k.a. At Best Cuckold, due September 8th in Europe and September 9th in North America on Sub Pop—that even remotely resembles a slump; in fact, it would be entirely appropriate to say that this Long Beach, California, enterprise is getting better with age.

Ah, yes, age—much was made of it when Avi Buffalo’s first album hit the ground running, and for good reason: While their Millikan High School classmates were preoccupied with quaint and youthful pursuits, the musicians behind Avi Buffalo were busy making an off-kilter pop gem that eventually bowled over NME, The AV Club, Pitchfork, the BBC, and numerous other outlets on both sides of the Atlantic whose tastes are respected by the general public. Like a lot of kids their age, the Buffaloes celebrated the end of high school in Europe, but instead of visiting the Louvre and Buckingham Palace, their overseas journeys took them to the festival stages of Reading, Leeds, Glastonbury, the Pavement-curated All Tomorrow’s Parties in Minehead, and beyond.

So is Avi Buffalo a he or a them? The answer is a definitive yes, as leader Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg has lent his musical nickname—bestowed in childhood by a pal who’d picked up on his friend’s inclination toward spicy chicken wings—to this full-fledged outfit that works something like a solo project in the studio and then builds into a band onstage. Not that he goes it alone when recording—to the contrary, many able-bodied compatriots, including longtime collaborator Sheridan Riley, have assisted with committing his songs to tape—but everything begins and ends with Avi, and after ending a year on the road in support of the first record, he decided to take his time beginning work on the second.

The creation of At Best Cuckold turned out to be a three-year journey; a stretch of time that resembles its predecessor. While transitioning from teenager to twentysomething and traversing the interpersonal wilds which accompany that age, Avi kept playing music (even picking up a new instrument every now and again), collaborated with and produced several friends (including Kevin Litrow’s N.O.W. project and Douglas James Sweeney’s Arjuna Genome), and even started DJing. He also wrote new songs, and by the time 2013 rolled around, it was time to begin capturing his latest sparks—with that, the band headed into the studio on New Year’s Day.

Two weeks later, the basic tracks for At Best Cuckold were recorded, having been captured at Tiny Telephone, the analog-friendly San Francisco studio run by John Vanderslice of John Vanderslice fame. The engineering was actually handled by Jay Pellicci (The Dodos, Deerhoof, Sleater-Kinney), though during his stay, Avi had a chance to play with the head honcho when he was asked to contribute to JV’s tribute to Bowie’s Diamond Dogs. Needless to say, Avi has nice things to say about the place.

The “clean and tight” recordings from Tiny Telephone served as perfect skeletons for Avi to flesh out with his analog and digital overdubs, which were completed over the next year or so at various locations around Southern California. (“I’ve always had a lot of fun with overdubs,” says Avi. “Maybe my favorite instrument is overdubs.”) The result—which was completed and mixed with Nicolas Vernhes at his Rare Book Room studio in Brooklyn—is a quirky yet comforting set of songs driven by refined pop songcraft and sneaky moments of grandeur that stick in the brain. Classic-sounding melodies are delivered with a modern sensibility, creating an album that’s equal parts timely and timeless. Well-placed piano, sax, clarinet, French horn, and cornet further enhance the proceedings with a glorious orch-pop sheen.

“So What” gets things started with its understated charm and sing-songy goodness, however, it isn’t until the rollicking “Memories of You” that Avi lets his trademark falsetto fly. There are great pop moments all over At Best Cuckold, but Avi also excels at moodiness, exemplified in subdued beauties like “Two Cherished Understandings” and “Oxygen Tank.”

“I really like some of the ballad aspects of this record—it’s kind of my tribute to the ballad,” says Avi. “I predicted in an interview during the time of my first record what I was going to use in my next record, and I said a lot of major seventh chords, which, to me, sounded like laying down. And that ended up in the record, too.”

Lyrically, there are a lot of unsettled emotions on the album; a product of Avi observing the world around him and writing “about life, dealing with relationships and yourself, and trying to keep your head up and keep learning amidst whatever it is you’re going through.” Disappointment (“Thought we understood each other well / I was wrong as usual”) and anxiety (“Someone told me if I messed around / then my head would fill up with guilty clouds”) abound, though there’s also a feeling that everything is eventually going to turn out okay, even when everything seems to be falling apart during closer “Won’t Be Around No More.” If anything, Avi’s passionate delivery is the ultimate source of optimism.

At the ripe old age of 23, Avi Buffalo is ready to take on the world (again), armed with all of the experience he’s compiled over the past few years. And he’s made sure the second time around will be just as memorable as the first.

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