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These New Puritans
Hidden Niall O'Keeffe , January 22nd, 2010 13:19

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Rewind to late 2006. A teenaged Jack Barnett is sitting in a pub in Shoreditch, where his band These New Puritans are about to headline a fashionista-thronged gig. He's listing influences: Nigerian hip hop compilation 'Lagos Stori Plenti', 13th century Florentine poet Guido Cavalcanti, Swedish electro-jazz pioneer Lars Horntveth, the American literary obscurantist Russell Hoban. He's enthusing about Southend as "the least culturally developed" place in England. "It's inspiring, it's free," he elaborates. "There's no history - just the future."

Jack's the boss of These New Puritans. "It's quite dictatorial," a bandmate confirms. The dictator sets out his vision, which extends beyond his dream of touring with Roots Manuva. "We could write any song," he says. "We want to be everything." He talks about the live show and how he enters a "trancelike state" to "create something that's above us". When an elderly Chinese man passes through the pub selling flashing bracelets, he thinks aloud about recruiting him for the band. Eventually he leads his unexpanded quartet onstage to play a grinding, militaristic set. The highlight is 'Elvis' and its apposite, insistent refrain of "We're being watched by experts".

During 2007, the plot thickens. The live show develops into a disorientating barrage of beats and shouting, with treble and ornamentation confined to the margins. Soon, however, These New Puritans' music gains a shamanic, psychedelic quality. A debut album, Beat Pyramid, arrives early in 2008, and it's symphonic, erudite and beautifully packaged. Promoting it on tour, Jack resembles a Roman centurion in his suit of golden chainmail. Suddenly, the possibilities seem almost limitless, yet - after a long period of silence - even the loftiest expectations will be surpassed.

To mark the dawning of a new decade, These New Puritans have resurfaced with a masterpiece. Hidden is a questing, post-everything collage piece that largely eschews guitars in favour of pummelling beats, brooding electronics and the ominous chanting of a children's choir. Throughout, the shape-shifting soundtrack is overlaid with cryptic commentary, in which Jack seems to offer a cheerful take on looming environmental destruction. At every turn, Hidden wrong-foots the listener. Continuity comes solely from its unwavering magnificence.

A false sense of security is invited by the gentle, soothing brass of instrumental opener 'Time Xone', before detonating drums cue the seven-minute liberal-baiting monolith 'We Want War'. Beyond its tribal rhythm and Jack's typically contrarian lyrics, 'We Want War' recalls Mezzanine-era Massive Attack with its multiple layers and textures, not to mention the paranoia in Jack's vocal ("The leaves on the floor must be five metres deep," he whispers).

Taut, militaristic and obtuse, 'We Want War' sets the tone for much of what follows, particularly 'Three Thousand' and 'Drum Courts - Where Corals Lie', each of which is powered by a relentless whirlwind of brutalising beats. Elsewhere, the album's obsession with the elements is established by the lilting 'Hologram' - which gleefully and topically imagines the world disappearing under blankets of snow - and deepened further by the scattergun 'Fire-Power'.

Three tracks in particular emphasise the awesome scale of These New Puritans' ambition. The first is 'Attack Music', which ropes in a group of Hackney schoolchildren to join Jack in delivering a baffling chorus: "It was September, harmful logic/It was September, this is attack music…" Young minds duly corrupted, the Puritans later outdo themselves with the flabbergasting 'Orion', a choral epic that could serve as an ideal soundtrack for a remake of 'Ben Hur' shot in space. Completing the album's envelope-pushing triumvirate, 'White Chords' comes equipped with Jack's best and most surprising vocal to date, one that's simultaneously wracked, tender, coy and solicitous.

After the righteous maelstrom, the album eases to a graceful conclusion with '5', in which music-box tinkling gives way to a sleepy reprise of 'Orion'. The journey, and with it These New Puritans' transformation, is complete; and suddenly the bold claims of the early days seem like modest understatements.

And so to January 19, 2010: These New Puritans are back in London's East End, nervously showcasing Hidden during an in-store performance at Rough Trade East. As it turns out, they haven't yet worked out how to do the album full justice but, in the attempt, Thomas Hein and George Barnett - facing each other over two drumkits - wage an impressively fierce battle. Jack Barnett's guitar, meanwhile, plays a largely ornamental role as he busies himself with vocal effects boxes and assorted electronic gadgetry. Sitting next to Jack, keyboardist Sophie Sleigh-Johnson delivers the songs' melody lines with calm aplomb.

It's an enjoyable set and, with its occasional glitches, a reassuringly human one. These days, you see, These New Puritans' records come on like menacing visitors from distant planets. And all must hail them.

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Ali Hassan
Jan 30, 2010 8:14pm

"These New Puritans have resurfaced with a masterpiece"

This is not the case is it? It's a mixture of tracks that work and those that don't. 10/10 for inventiveness of course. I thought quietus weren't into the over-hype machine that makes up most of music journalism.

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Luke Turner
Jan 31, 2010 10:29pm

In reply to Ali Hassan:

You need to keep listening to Hidden. It took me about 20 goes and then it suddenly clicked. The percussion is incredible.

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Mayor Of Southend
Feb 3, 2010 8:22pm

If the We Want War track is anything to go by then the album is an overrated stink bomb. It's very ordinary isn't it. Jack lacks presence and whines away over a clattering ominous Massive Attack type vibe. Wow. It's the future. I mean christ almighty, this lot have been raved about since they came into being, courting the fashion world and spouting a load of chuff in interviews. Live gigs where the singer lays down and has a nap. Brilliant isn't it. Prize bell end is a phrase that springs to mind. I'll go listen to another track to delve deeper into their genius. When does the new Archie Bronson Outfit album come out Mum?

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John Doran
Feb 3, 2010 9:07pm

In reply to Mayor Of Southend:

"Massive Attack type vibe"

Dad? Is that you?

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Feb 4, 2010 4:21am

Yes, it is your father little Johnny. Quit spanking your meat on my computer and get your homework done.

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Mayor Of Southend
Feb 6, 2010 8:47am

In reply to John Doran:

No John, it's your Mum, nut away that useless flap of skin and do the dishes you silly fart.

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Mayor Of Southend
Feb 6, 2010 8:51am

In reply to Mayor Of Southend:

"nut away"?? Meant to say "put away that useless flap of skin". Haha, you flustered your poor Mum there.
The Mayor has listened to more of this TNP album, Hmmmm, still not great is it. Carry on.

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Feb 8, 2010 12:58am

ehh...considering it was Son Lux that did the majority of instrumental arrangements for Hidden, and TNP did very little on their own album, this is crap. I will just buy a Son Lux album instead, who's pretty good btw.

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Betty P
Feb 10, 2010 5:55pm

Straight in at number 100 in the charts - as befitting a really duff Nitzer Ebb. This lot are surely 2010's Horrors i.e. over-rated soulless white boy junk loved by hairdressers who think they know Krautrock. We Want War is the most unintentionally hilarious song of the year.

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John Doran
Feb 10, 2010 6:31pm

In reply to Betty P:

Nitzer Ebb? You fucking tin eared muppet.

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Feb 10, 2010 6:46pm

In reply to John Doran:

Go back to playing with your model orks and wizards you cloth eared Heavy Metal chump.

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John Doran
Feb 10, 2010 7:07pm

In reply to :

I loved D&D when I was 13. It's orc by the way. And heavy metal is fucking rad. Metal has more forward looking and inventive groups than most other genres at the moment. Especially indie.

But none of this should detract from the fact that if you can't tell the difference between Nitzer Ebb (millitaristic techno/EBM/industrial dance) and These New Puritans, then your view probably isn't worth taking *that* seriously.

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matt parker
Feb 18, 2010 2:23pm

having had my first full listen to the album im blown away by the ambition of it... although i do at times find the refrains a bit frustrating and obvious... brasstronica

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