Release Date: Mar 2, 2010
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Making sense of the Essex quartet's second album is like reading the runes on the side of a monolith. The central proposition is interesting enough, as the band's youthful mastermind Jack Barnett pits brass and woodwind against the digital thunder of hip?hop and dancehall, but that's just the beginning. Hidden is a wintry labyrinth of arresting details: the swords that slice through the centre of We Want War, the children's choir that chants the title of Attack Music, the little pockets of light and air in Hologram, the way that Drum Courts – Where Corals Lie snaps between mechanoid violence and pastoral gusts of Elgar.
At some point in the planning stages, These New Puritans front man Jack Barnett must have said: 'Okay, we can either stick to our guns, make another pretty-decent record, or we can go for broke'. I mean, how else does writing a collection of songs around a bassoon come about? Bravado is always easier from the sidelines; that is, don’t dismiss the idea of making Beat Pyramid Part 2 out of hand. After all, TNPS’ debut was actually better than pretty-decent, ticking all the right electro-pop boxes.
It’s pretty obvious really, but noise is the heart of music. Yet, in a world where an addiction to compressed soundfiles has led to musicians smothering their songs in reverb and digital wash, sound is suffering. It’s exciting then to see [a]These New Puritans[/a] living up to their name and dragging a fresh clarity of sound into the world. You might want to go and buy some new speakers, because listening to every sharpening knife, oboe, cough, mutter, dense syncopated beat, delicate piano, and choir on [b]‘Hidden’[/b] through your complementary iPod headphones is like looking at a photocopy of a Bruegel, or watching [i]The Wizard Of Oz[/i] in black and white.
British foursome gets wonderfully bizarre on second album You’ve heard music like this before, just not all in the same place. Hidden somehow synthesizes the concussive guitars and delirious chants of Liars, the cinematic industrial churn of Nine Inch Nails, brainy Reichian pattern music, Timbaland’s spacey snap, and the moody winds and horns of composer Benjamin Britten. The disparate elements—cheap dance presets and six-foot Japanese drums, intricate Foley sound effects (the sort used in radio dramas), blitzkrieg guitars and springy synths, choral arrangements and angelic pianos—all interlock seamlessly.
Bassoons, French horns, Japanese taiko drums, a children's choir, Foley samples, incantations about secret recordings, labyrinths, and knights. And that's just Hidden's first two tracks. Raise your hand if you thought These New Puritans had it in them. Just two years ago, the band from Southend-- a UK borough set where the Thames meets the North Sea-- took a stab at Gang of Four rhythms and Mark E.
In 2008, the first album from These New Puritans appeared, presenting a band of young Brits who had clearly soaked up the lessons of brainy post-punk outfits like the Fall, Wire, et al. , not only in terms of the Burroughs-esque, cut-and-paste approach to composition and the terse, angular riffs and rhythms, but in the tendency to approach an album like an art-school project, with an armful of theories behind each decision. Fortunately for all concerned, These New Puritans -- like all powerful musicians -- operate on a level that connects emotionally and viscerally before the cerebral side is even engaged, so the whole thing plays out in a non-pretentious way.
Well, where the fuck did this come from? When These New Puritans played NXNE in the summer of 2008, it seemed inevitable that they'd be the latest in a line of flash-in-the-pan post-Bloc Party UK indie bands to repackage the Fall and Gang of Four for the Pitchfork generation. [rssbreak] Here we are not even two years later and the band has taken a huge leap forward. Or, more accurately, sideways.
Since before their first album, 2008’s Beat Pyramid, was issued, These New Puritans have been entangled in a race to reach a distinct sound. And though Beat Pyramid was heavily indebted to Wire and the Fall, it stood in stark contrast to the more polished, poppy jaunts of post-punk fervor pumped out by the likes of Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party. While those bands moved on to more electronic versions of themselves, These New Puritans frontman Jack Barnett learned musical notation so he could bring the stifling Gordian knots of sound floating in his mind life on his sophomore album, Hidden, an excellent achievement in sound that positions These New Puritans among the vanguard of British indie.
These New Puritans kicked off their first record (the totally solid Beat Pyramid) with a disquieting, confrontational question: “What’s your favorite number, what does it mean?” From there, the song devolved into a discourse on numerology that split the difference between philosophy major and nutty hobo. It was an awesome song, but one that left me wondering if these guys were serious. Their sophomore effort, Hidden, answers that question with a resounding yes.
Don’t let the name throw you. On Hidden, These New Puritans show an enthusiasm for sound so intense it suggests a band in the fullest throes of gluttony or lust. Check out “We Want War”, the first complete song on Hidden. It’s anchored by a huge and ornate percussion arrangement combining bass-heavy hip-hop beats, Japanese Taiko drums, and mysterious metallic scraping noises.
These New Puritans make songs that are spastic, harsh, and urgent, founded on coats of electronics and repetitive, vague, and half-spoken vocals from frontman Jack Barnett. Hidden, the young British group's sophomore full-length, was made much in the same vein as 2007's Beat Pyramid, but at times it's even less coherent. The opener, "Time Xone," is two minutes of unhurried, melodic woodwinds and horns that nonsensically segue into the bombastic bass thuds, rim-clicks, and wavering synths of the record's first single, "We Want War." It's an intense track with a low, monstrous chant of "We want war" throughout it and, like much of TNP's work, perhaps best fit for a video game.
Iwas sheltering from the hail in my local indie record store the other day, flicking though the latest vinyl missives from the precious world of Music No One Buys. This store puts helpful notes on the sleeves about what the record sounds like, and I felt less like I was browsing for pop records, and more like I was cramming for an exam on avant-garde 101. Seems like no one young, white and middle-class can write a pop song any more unless it's based on the life of an obscure 14th-century author-slash-serial killer and played entirely on pre-war synthesisers and different thicknesses of bark.
It’s not out to please you, but Hidden is well worthy of investigation. Louis Pattison 2010 Interviewed around the time of These New Puritans’ debut album Beat Pyramid back in January 2008, frontman Jack Barnett wasn’t dwelling on the past, but looking to the future. The band’s new material, he exhorted, sounded “like dancehall meets Steve Reich” and went on to claim “I’ve been writing a lot of music for bassoon.” At the time, this probably elicited a few sniggers; another group of indie wastrels whose ideas far outstripped their ability.
Galactic Onstage, Galactic is a New Orleans funk band that jams through marathon dance medleys. On its albums, it’s becoming something else: a studio outfit, still funky, that merges hand-played, sampled and programmed tracks and that doubles as a tour guide. “Ya-Ka-May” (Epitaph) is named ….