These New Puritans: Hidden Track-by-Track & Exclusive Photos
, January 11th, 2010 04:13
Kev Kharas dissects These New Puritans' second album Hidden track by track, and we present an exclusive picture gallery of hot young naked men by Lucy Johnston.
These New Puritans are a band that thrive on being misunderstood. Their 2008 debut Beat Pyramid was an album that claimed influence from, among other things, 16th century numerology, the apocalypse as ultimate artistic event, water, mirrors, magick realism, Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker and circles. Pretentious? It didn't matter. What did was that, whether in horror or delight, people tended to recoil at how that ambition jarred against a moment whose groups seemed content to huff the exhaust fumes belched by a classicist rock motorcade with The Beatles at its crown and Oasis at its rear. While Beat Pyramid did draw from that modernist procession of guitar music - from the taut post-punk of The Fall and Wire, most obviously - it seemed to do so with ruinous eyes; Gavrilo Princip, dropped sandwich at boot heel, drawing a gun at Franz Ferdinand's stalled car.
Talking recently, band leader and barker/magus Jack Barnett explained how much of imminent follow-up Hidden was written 'blind' ('deaf'?).
“For some of the songs I collaborated with an arranger called Ryan Lott (aka Son Lux. We worked incredible hours to get it perfect; it was weird spending such a long time imagining this music but never being able to hear it and suddenly there's [13 classical wind musicians from the Czech Republic] sight-reading it and just blasting it out.”
It's apt that Barnett should choose to work this way – not with Czech wind musicians, but in a way that, to a large extent, is imaginary. The sounds you'll hear on Hidden remain eminently physical – the taut guitars of its predecessor may have been jettisoned, but beats are brought to the fore to blast in gaps left by wind woven, now, from imagination into something real. On Hidden TNPs remain gut attackers – they're visceral, anxious, of sinew and stabby – but their real power lies in the contrast between that robust physicality and the questions Barnett's refrains and the band's imagery ask of the imagination. Most listeners won't be au fait with English Renaissance composers or 16th century astrologist John Dee, but in that gap between Barnett's knowledge and yours lies TNPs' power – the power to open huge blanknesses in the mind for the ignorant and interested to swim in; blanknesses that hold, in the ambiguity of misunderstanding, the potential for myriad truth and endless discovery. It's an obnoxious way to go about things, when you think about it, but These New Puritans do so unashamedly. It makes you realise that empathy and consensus don't have to and shouldn't be music's ultimate aim.
This record can be whatever you want it to be - here's a nuts and bolts run-through of Hidden's eleven tracks.
In typically evasive fashion, the album's opener is formed entirely of wind, 'Time Xone' a gaseous introduction that manages to sound familiar and strange, curious and scared, anxious and calm, maudlin and sated (often simultaneously). Its textures remind me of moments from Arthur Russell's First Thought Best Thought collection, though that probably says more about my own ignorance of orchestral music than the motives of its makers.
We Want War
If the introduction was fairly sedate, what's next blows its quiet apart. 'We Want War' was chosen as this album's lead single for a reason – declarative, belligerent and with an odd sex, at times the track's watching Timbaland belly-dance, at others it's taking shelter from bombs in a church. Again, this is ignorance on my part – I use 'church' because there's choral singing, and it's the mystic gateway that most obviously springs to mind. I say it in the same way I might speculate that the supermarket probably sells rattraps.
Three – Thousand
Another beat-led track, similar in its strut to 'We Want War', if more low-slung. Jack Barnett's voice is softer and rapped, blanketing rider drums hammered 'pon by twin George, while Sophie Sleigh-Johnson adds synth dazzle and Thomas Hein a sleazy bass nark. You'll feel this one in your gut like Salem - 'Three Thousand' sounds sleep-deprived and delirious. It's fucking great.
Calming the pace, 'Hologram' is an obtuse pop song built from horn parp, mysterious plucked string, functional drumming and a vocal from Barnett that swaps dismissive swipes for an atypical longing (“shut the door, because I'm staying here/the world might disappear, under blankets of snow”). It's fast becoming obvious that Hidden is an album that'll reward headphones and a loyal attention span.
The title doesn't lie: we're bound to the war beat again. Barnett's vocal echoes in ways you might remember from Beat Pyramid and there are backing vocals from either Sleigh-Johnson or a children's choir. I think it's the latter. Bass booms like totems slung in ground and there's the sound of drawn-swords. Jack has talked before about his desire to cross-reference sounds and themes across songs and albums, and in this sense you could consider 'Attack Music' twinned with 'We Want War'.
Fire – Power
Another expertly-assembled war song, this time echoing the previously available 'FFF'. Hidden is turning out to be a lot more combative than its opening gambit suggested.
Again recalling TNPs' previous work, 'Orion' begins with drums that clatter 'n pound like they did on Beat Pyramid's 'Numerology (What's Your Favourite Number)'. From there it goes airborne on the warm draughts of choral chants. What does that mean? It means synths. Synths and backing vocals provided by a cast of extras corralled from the set of 'The Ten Commandments' and the ghosts of their beloveds. As the fire of this one gradually tires into embers, and the singing children return in chains, you wonder if this mightn't be an outro for the record's aggressive middle-section.
The pining, forlorn wind arrangements of 'Canticle' would suggest the aggression's over for now.
Drum Courts – Where Corals Lie
No – this is gonna be rough as fuck by the sounds of things. Drums pound harder and faster than they have before, underpinned by synths that fart like a car. Jack's back, muttering a hushed commentary on something or other that bears some resemblance to this poem by Richard Garnett. Many of its lines are sung – “Thy lips are like a sunset glow / Thy smile is like a morning sky / Yet leave me, leave me, let me go / And see the land where corals lie / The land, the land, where corals lie.”
Jack's got white chords running through his body, apparently. This is a track that welds the two moods that have marked this album so far; downbeat and bloodthirsty, rhythm-driven and choral-pocked. “X marks the spot or sometimes means no,” complains Jack, in typically ambiguous style.
When talking about this album around the release of the last record, Jack described its sound as pitched somewhere between dancehall and Steve Reich. If we've had the dancehall – through 'We Want War', 'Fire Power', 'Attack Music' and their ill-tempered ilk – then here's the fragile, glassy minimalism. If most of Hidden rejoices in its own, gnarled ugliness, '5' finds These New Puritans beautiful and relatively exposed. As wind instruments charge their reeds and timid percussion tinkles, Barnett's voice appears briefly to offer what sounds like, if not an apology, then something of a confessional. Unfortunately it's buried too deep in the mix, beneath bassoon and that children's choir, to make out – unfortunately? I for one am quite glad These New Puritans are still fucking with us.
Until the sound of Jack Barnett weeping appears as a 'hidden track'.
Except it doesn't. Maybe.
Click on the image below for an exclusive gallery of pictures from the shoot for These New Puritans video 'We Want War' (watch above) directed by Daniel Askill. Photos by Lucy Johnston