Tilly Foulkes reviews Backhand Deals, a debut at once topical and nostalgic from Cardiff band Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard.
Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard’s debut album Backhand Deals twists millennial existential anxiety into a buzzy cocktail of bubblegum glam rock for the digital age. Hailing from Cardiff, the four-piece resurrect the sprinkling piano melodies, extravagant guitars and Queen-like synths of the 1970s to great success, creating a record that is energised, inventive and original against the post-punk scene that currently dominates the alt-rock landscape.
The freshness of their sound is surely something to do with the creative control they’ve maintained throughout the process of writing, recording and producing. Signed to Communion Records – whose roster includes the likes of Wunderhorse and Twin Peaks – the band remained at the helm of the entire creative process, with frontman and songwriter Tom Rees producing the album himself. It was recorded in their small studio in Cardiff, and their love for the city is evident throughout the album. Crescent Man vs Demolition Dan is a catchy tribute to Cardiff’s demolished Guildford Crescent – a street that was once home to music venue Gwdihŵ and independent businesses, but is now aiming to be replaced with high-rise flats. Underneath Zac White’s self-assured guitar riff and the staggered drumming of Ethan Hurst, there is a sincere plea not to destroy the cultural hubs of local areas.
The influence of Wales and Welsh culture doesn’t stop there – it’s intrinsic to the album. The James Dean Bradfield/Kelly Jones rasp is rife throughout the record, and their glam rock pastiche is certainly reminiscent of early Manic Street Preachers and their Guns N’ Roses obsession. While the lyrics don’t quite compare to those of Richey Edwards – not yet anyway – the themes of Backhand Deals, much like Generation Terrorists, are all tied up in the alienating experience of existing under the horrors of capitalism. Opening track ‘New Age Millennial Magic’ begins the album with the line ‘Like a poor, old cow has to graze all day / Just to stay alive, but ends up slaughtered anyway.’ Hidden by the campy Elton John-like piano melody and the funky bassline of Ed Rees, the horrible reality of working ourselves to death just so we can buy something fancy every now and then creeps up on the listener like the unsettling realisation of how quickly time is passing.
‘Good Day’ is similar – though the tune is drenched in summer sun and expels an easy-going sensibility, Tom Rees reminds us that the stark reality of trying to ‘make it’ in the creative industries is often impossible without those rich parents. The bouncy piano and vocal performance that sounds sickly sweet with a smile waiting to burst out of it almost tricks you into missing the sardonic lyrics that sound like they’ve come straight off an Amazon work poster. Blended together, they make a catchy piece of pop-rock that is deceptively good at hiding it’s nihilism.
The 21st century restlessness that bustles through each song uplifts the record as a whole, tying it together to make a solid statement on the society we live in and a genuinely strong foundation for their style and sound. ‘Faking a Living’ is another anthemic number with more capitalist concern – rightfully pointing out that paying for toothpaste is an absurd and horrifying aspect of being alive. ‘Feel the Change!’ is as joyful as it is sarcastic. Both of these tracks demonstrate the particular skill they have when it comes to production – polished and shining, it’s clear every element has been thoughtfully considered, resulting in a smooth fusing of sounds.
The second half of the album surpasses the first, with ‘On The Kill Again’ being the best track overall. It’s sexy and glamourous and exudes rock ‘n’ roll with its spooky crooning vocal that smashes into an energetic, sing-along chorus. ‘You’ is the same; the track is filled with charm and a groovy bassline that’s so catchy it’s impossible not to sing and bop along. The last song, A ‘Passionate Life’, is a sonically optimistic close to the record. Twinkling harmonies prove the outstanding vocal abilities of Rees, whose range is enthralling. With the hopping, marching band music that pushes the song forward, it feels like the closing credits to a full on rock show.
Backhand Deals is a refreshing debut that is ambitious in its lyrical content and musical style – it’s quite unlike much else out there at the moment. Occasional waver aside, it’s clear that there’s a lot of potential for Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard. A comment on the terror and doom of capitalism, and a nostalgia-smothered celebration of classic rock, this is a strong debut that will stand steady as their career progresses.
Backhand Deals by Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard is streaming now.
Tilly Foulkes is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.