Childhood’s End, the beautiful first single from Majical Cloudz’s upcoming album ‘The Impersonator’, seemed difficult to match, but in many ways Bugs Don’t Buzz is just as significant. Its nakedness fills in another piece of a puzzle that started with Welsh’s adopting of an ocean-deep croon for the ‘Turns Turns Turns’ EP, and has been developing itself since. In Dummy’s interview with Welsh late last year he spoke of how much he’d worked on building his persona on-stage, realising that delivery and presence was more the aim of the game over pitch perfection. With Bugs Don’t Buzz’s stark piano/voice delivery we’re given a glimpse of the process through which Majical Cloudz is really becoming Majical Cloudz.
What a voice it is, by the way: rich, earnest and full of flightiness. Go back to the lo-fi wisps of Your Eyes, the opener on ‘II’ that (and this is by no means aimed as a criticism) had collaborator and good mate Grimes’s hand marks all over it, and it’s kind of hard to process that you’re taking in the same voice. The sheer pace of this transformation could well offer up comparisons to that apparently momentary shift where Ian Curtis stopped singing like a ten-a-penny punk scowler on the early Warsaw demos, and instead started sounding like Ian Curtis.
It’s true to say that Welsh’s new world-weary, weighty guise does take some work to get used to – ‘Impersonator’ is clearly a wonderful album, but it’s one that requires careful handling and the right context. What makes Bugs Don’t Buzz intriguing in relation to this, is that lyrically a real knowingness is revealed in its emotional clout, an understanding that casts Welsh like a half-drunk punter in a pub corner, hammering away gleefully at the keys. “The cheesiest of songs all end with a smile/ This won’t end with a smile, my love”, Welsh announces in the opening lines, with palpable hopelessness. Later, the line is playfully messied with and “happiest” is substituted for “cheesiest”, and “won’t” is replaced with “might”. It’s a straightforward semi-inversion of meaning, but the mucky, uncertain space it creates helps to build the in-betweenness beautifully captured in the line: “it pays to be on the edge of existence/ Just riding the surface”.
As it turns out, there isn’t much in the way of a suggested smile at the end, but emerging sounds of warbling noise as Bug Don’t Buzz collapses in on itself. Some may observe more than a passing melodic resemblance to Radiohead’s Last Flowers in the vocal climbs, but arguably Welsh makes superior use of this soaring sequence than Last Flowers did – which is perhaps more one of Thom Yorke’s sketched-out ideas than a fully realised achievement. Majical Cloudz are hardly the first act to make use of the starkness of piano and voice, and they certainly won’t be the last. But the resonance of Bugs Don’t Buzz’s speaks to the speed with which Devon Welsh has really found his identity, and it’s one that can only get more thrilling from here.