Release Date: Mar 4, 2014
Record label: PIAS
Genre(s): Electronic, Electronica, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, New Wave/Post-Punk Revival
Despite across-the-board praise and rightful appearances at the top of end-of-year lists, These New Puritans’ 2010 album Hidden remained just that for most record-buyers presumably distracted by the deluge of far lesser musical accomplishments that year. What? Was everyone waiting for a new Radiohead album or something? Well, that very thing came, underwhelmed and went in early 2011, leaving the distinct feeling that Radiohead had become bored with themselves. And while it would be pushing it to suggest that These New Puritans began writing Field Of Reeds that year in response, it isn’t pushing it to praise them for taking Yorke and co’s place and creating what’s arguably the musical achievement of the 2010s so far.
With their risky third album, These New Puritans abandoned the angular dance-punk of Beat Pyramid and the gloomy electronic beats of Hidden to reinvent themselves once again for Field of Reeds, a record as indebted to classical scores and avant-garde jazz as rock. Taking a hands-off, live approach to the recording process, and allowing open space and emptiness to take precedence over beats, the music has a disturbing, dystopian feel to it, swinging from detached to nightmarish before resolving into something lovingly tranquil. Some of the best songs, like "Fragment 2," "V (Island Song)," and "Spiral" (which sounds like a fever-dream version of Björk and Thom Yorke's "I've Seen It All" duet from the Dancer in the Dark soundtrack), thrive in this push and pull between atonal dissonance and sheer beauty.
How do you follow a masterpiece? After releasing Hidden to planetary acclaim, These New Puritans stepped up and laid out their blueprint: to make a mainstream pop album. Ever the visionary, mainman Jack Barnett outlined his 'Disney pop' concept in bold terms, even suggesting he and brother George were to relaunch brand Barnett as a Svengali duo. The band, as bands do, let these ideas lurk around awhile, watching them trickle through the appropriate channels and maybe slightly enjoying the attention.
These New Puritans are a British band unlike any other. In fact, there are few bands nominally working under the sphere of alternative indie rock that come close to matching them for scope, ambition and an unshakable conviction in their own vision and approach. That conviction is singularly driven by Jack Barnett, the sonic auteur behind These New Puritans’ sound.
On Field of Reeds’ title and final track, Jack Barnett idly sings, “You asked if the islands would float away… I said, yes.” The answer comes back with a dead-eyed conviction that makes it feel as if Barnett has lost sight of the solid shoreline, something he'll definitely be accused of with These New Puritans’ third album. It sees the Southend group all but shed any assocations they once had with the wider rock world, reinventing themselves as a neo-classical ensemble. The result is an uncompromisingly self-possessed record whose intimate qualities shouldn't be mistaken for an easy listen-- in many respects, its clearest analog is Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden.
“The sunshine is a glorious birth;But yet I know, where’er I go,That there hath pass’d away a glory from the earth.”– “Ode on Intimations of Immortality,” by William Wordsworth You can count the emotionally resonant moments on the first two These New Puritans albums on maybe half a hand. Straining towards a platonic ideal of RZA-cum-The Fall-cum-taiko drumming, TNP’s whole brag came down to austerity, severity, and discipline, as the band struck stony-faced poses over big beats and esoteric sorta-non sequiturs. No band from the whole new wave of NME-approved post-punk demanded to be taken more seriously, but none were as inscrutable and terse.
These New Puritans communicate in a different language with every album. You might hear Field of Reeds as a collection of experimental rock songs (Talk Talk is the easy reference point), or as a suite of contemporary classical compositions (any day now, band linchpin Jack Barnett should be getting a call from the London Sinfonietta). In truth, it moves fluidly between the two, as solid rhythms splinter and abstract arrangements coalesce and crescendo.
These New PuritansField of Reeds[Infectious Music; 2013]By Brendan Frank; June 20, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetWe’ll never see the likes of “Elvis” again. Three albums in, These New Puritans have yet to feel strongly enough about a sound they’ve created to revisit it, constantly tampering with their ratio of post-punk and avant-garde, driven by the compulsion to achieve Xiu Xiu or Liars-like transformations with each release. After the not-so-surprising success of their sophomore effort Hidden, a rattling, percussion-heavy affair, they’ve pulled back considerably, nearly as much as they possibly could have.
When Beat Pyramid came out way back in 2008, its young authors were clear students of the neo post-punk indie school, combining the arty, scruffy jaggedness of Wire and the Fall with the jittery energy of the Arctic Monkeys. What distinguished These New Puritans from others indebted to the same reference points was that their music felt more inspired by the sensibilities espoused by the original post-punk vanguard (drawing influence from non-rock sources and shedding as many conventions of rock tradition as possible) than yet another exercise filtering Cure or Gang of Four motifs through indie rock mechanisms. The nurturing of this experimentally-minded approach has served the band in good stead—having developed drastically with their second album Hidden (where among other evolutionary strides, frontman Jack Barnett taught himself how to write musical notation in order to better realize the arrangements he heard in his head), the Puritans have since blossomed into full on avant art-rockers, in the process creating a daring, difficult third album that—depending on who you talk to—may be the delivery of the creative promise the group has long hinted at.
Genius is a lonely road. Somewhere in the US lurks 14-year-old boy wonder Jacob Barnett: a wünderkind with a higher IQ than Albert Einstein who’s blowing minds with his Big Bang theories. But still his mum worries he’ll find it hard to make friends. Thousands of miles away in Southend-on-Sea, there’s frighteningly stern auteur Jack Barnett (no relation): dreaming up impossible ways of making These New Puritans sound like no other band on the planet.
Following 2010's dazzlingly inventive, but equally abrasive, Hidden, Southend three-piece These New Puritans show no sign of reining in their ambition on their third album: unusual instruments share space with classical musicians, mumbled vocals and a recording of a harris hawk. Yet there's a warmth to these lengthy, slowly unfurling songs that was missing last time around. Fragment Two and the title track, the latter featuring the astonishing bass voice of Adrian Peacock, reveal new depths with each listen, while the standout Organ Eternal is hypnotically beguiling.
Last we heard from Jack Barnett and These New Puritans, the group were suiting up for battle and unsheathing swords to the sounds of dancehall rhythms and woodwinds on 2010’s Hidden. It was a primal scream. With its seamless fusion of dancehall, breakbeat, classical, and post-punk, it wasn’t messing around. With Field of Reeds, the latest incarnation of Jack Barnett’s hell-bent perfectionism and genre-hungry restlessness, These New Puritans are more serious than ever.
So then, fitting adjectives for These New Puritans’ utterly sublime third album? Let’s start with ‘unique’, and say that Field Of Reeds is that certainly that, most of all in terms of mood and tone, though not exclusively – it’s also successful in its bid to remain “reference-free” as main man Jack Barnett told FACT was his hope. Next, is the Essex band’s new outing ‘ground-breaking’? In the indie world, possibly, although in TNP’s chosen field here of ‘experimental orchestral’, possibly not – let’s face it, there’s a chance some conservatory-trained prog bassoonists were pushing this particular envelope a decade ago. And, finally, the big daddy in the big book of critical superlatives, is the album a work of ‘genius’? Well there’s an argument for and against that one, but feel free to chew it over on your own buck.
In the modern world, These New Puritans are a bunch of pale, skinny, serious 20-somethings championed by NME and groomed by Dior, but it’s probable that they exist in another dimension altogether, free of pop culture excess. Initially, it would have been easy to dismiss TNP as merely another hype band who, by the skin of their teeth, clenched the tail end of British post-punk revival. Beat Pyramid arrived in 2008 and by then revivals were saturated by a faceless copycat paradox.
These New Puritans — Field of Reeds (Infectious)By now, you have probably heard what a radical departure Field of Reeds is, how a band that seemed, early on, to be nearly all beat, has evolved into a full-fledged chamber orchestra whose every fleeting idea is voiced through choirs of reed instruments, string sections, brass and the soft melancholy tones of a fado singer. You’ve probably heard it, because Field of Reeds has been out in the U.K. since early last year, enjoyed rapturous reception and numerous slots on British end-of-year wrap-ups.
In interviews about this album, Jack Barnett, the leader of the ever-evolving musical project known as These New Puritans, bristles at the idea that Field Of Reeds could be considered a “contemporary classical” work. As he told The Quietus late last year, “When people say ‘classical music,’ I think that’s a way of saying, ‘I don’t understand this.’” Really, both sides of the argument have their merits. This isn’t your typical British pop album.
Tagged – with some justice – as “post punk” after the 2008 release of their debut album Beat Pyramid, a release that was of a marked creativity and originality for a pair of twentysomethings, These New Puritans had already made that piece of pigeonholing seem unfairly restrictive by the time of its 2010 follow up Hidden. Now, Field of Reeds succeeds in making even greater leaps – stylistically, in intent, in atmosphere and in sheer musical inventiveness – to such an extent that the band have reached a stage where their output has become beyond any kind of straightforward categorisation, or almost even any simple description. Jack Barnett, one of the pair of twins (with brother George) who form the core of the band, describes this album, on the press release that accompanies it, in these terms: “The music speaks for itself more than any other we’ve done before.
Field Of Reeds. It's that title that holds the key to These New Puritans' third album. Fields are terra firma, wilderness tamed, human use of the soil for productivity. Reeds one might more commonly associate with liminal space between water and dry land, murky, misty... they grow in wet beds, not ….
In fifteen years’ time what will Jack Barnett be doing? In heading the These New Puritans project he’s essentially gone from a guy whose songs flirted with indie mainstays, to someone who hires Dutch composers to help out on his band’s records, like it’s no big deal.He’s in a trap, is Barnett. With 2010’s ‘Hidden’ he hired a choir from Prague to act as a ‘fifth member’ of sorts, leading them into subsequent live shows. Everything was grand, beautifully acquired and arranged.