Album Review: Buffet Lunch – The Power of Rocks

[Upset The Rhythm; 2021]

Buffet Lunch might hail from Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland’s twin pillars of post-punk music, but their debut album, The Power of Rocks, derives its quality from somewhere else: the four-piece recorded it on the banks of Upper Loch Fyne in Argyll over four nights in March 2020, a moment of escapism before the pandemic took hold. It’s why the songs here sound unleashed from post-punk constraints, from the grey suffocation of the cities; when you stare out across a silent water, able to see the stars for the first time in months, different possibilities present themselves.

It’s also perhaps facetious to call this a work of post-punk – although ostensibly it is – for the playfulness and exuberance feels more aligned with art pop, if anything. The guitars may be angular and jagged but the rhythm is also wonky and weird, their performance jittery and jivey and, above all, fun. The feverish “Red Apple Happiness” kicks things off with a wandering saxophone line (what is it with the British post-punk revival and the sax? It’s as if the instrument was just newly discovered, like the cavemen first discovering fire) promising silliness and unserious developments to come.

Vocalist Perry O’Bray possesses a similar yelp and howl to David Byrne, whose Talking Heads are an undeniable influence on the band. At their brightest rhythmically, their angularness recalls Devo or Omni. This particularly clear on “Bladderwrack”, which comes complete with playful chanting chorus, and “It Helps to Know (Time Moves)”. Closer to home, they share many sensibilities (and previous tour dates) with Glasgow’s excellent Kaputt. They only fully adhere to an intensive post-punk rhythm on “Pebbledash”.

The guitars screech on “Looking At Liz Talent’s Chair”, they slide on “Said Bernie”. The latter is concerned with the frailty of old age, taking as its narrative the story of an old man who used to write every day to a British newspaper for 40 years. As “Listen to me!” is bellowed and repeated within the track, it’s sorely tempting to import one Bernie Sanders into proceedings, the curmudgeonly and embattled old politician railing (rightly) against the woes of the U.S.; it was predictably easy to cast aspersions against the frail Sanders, bent over, always shouting, but time and history will be kinder.

Their lyrics are elusive throughout. O’Bray prefers to create subtly surreal landscapes for the listener to imprint whatever they desire upon. So “Inside with the pips” is shouted several times in “Red Apple Happiness”; ‘My paper thin / This yellow hair,” is a choice line from “Orange Peel”. The one moment where they do abandon obliqueness, though, they pull it off; the sharply political “Pebbledash” bemoans the disconnect that exists between the general voter and politicians purportedly representing them in the U.K.. “Essex man” and “Worcester woman” are continually shouted, mentions of the typical working class people that are used to profile voters. It’s Hancock attempting to play football, it’s May running through fields of wheat.

The main outlier is “Ten Times”, a slow slice of electronica that sounds like a Broadcast B-side. It’s one of two songs which feature Jayne Dent of Me Lost Me, and she lends some moving meaning to the record for a brief time. She returns for the gentle and quieting closer “Ashley’s New Haircut”, a moment to come down after the concerted fun of before.

There is no undercurrent theme but none is needed. Buffet Lunch’s music is a welcome reprieve from the preachiness and the seriousness of some of their contemporaries: Slint tribute acts posturing with messianic potential; middle aged preachers provoking eye rolls with their self-importance. The lightness of touch and tone on The Power of Rocks imbues it all with an easy energy. And, as anyone knows, you never visit a Buffet Lunch once; second servings are always required, and a sophomore album from this band will be worthy of visitation.