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The Lead Review

Bloomin' Marvellous! These New Puritans' Inside The Rose Reviewed
Luke Turner , March 21st, 2019 09:11

You might think that These New Puritans could never follow the magnificent Field Of Reeds... but think again, says Luke Turner, for new album Inside The Rose is just a different kind of wonderful

What does a musical collective do when, sonically, aesthetically, artistically, they've left all their peers trailing in the dust, but make a music that'd never be allowed into the mainstream? This is what has faced These New Puritans in the long gap since the release of Field Of Reeds, arguably the most ambitious album recorded in the UK over the past decade. You'd be forgiven for thinking that they might have run out of road, never due to their own failings but because their aspiration and bloody-mindedness might have ruled them out of the way the music industry currently works. This isn't the 90s, and you can't 'do a Radiohead' any more, after all.

To work on the follow-up to Field Of Reeds, Jack Barnett moved to Berlin, not in a 'trust fund edgelord in a black coat outside Berghain' sort of way, but purely because he could afford to get studio space in a large old Communist-era radio studio. "I'm not really in Berlin because I love the mystique of [the city] or anything like that, so the whole miserable winter thing doesn't really hold anything for me," he told me a few years ago. "It could be anywhere, I'm the sort of person where my environment doesn't have a massive effect on what I do, I don't think it would change the music particularly." There, he forged forward as part of a two-member core operation with twin brother George (Thomas Hein has departed to take a PhD in neuroscience). Additional contributions came from long-time collaborators Graham Sutton and conductor Andre De Ridder, yet even with this palette, this is not, by any stretch of the imagination, Field Of Reeds II. How could it be? That's not to say this is a comedown. It's a consolidation, yes, but rather than tread water These New Puritans continue to explore and augment their own landscape.

There's a code to unpick it all too. I always like it when an artist takes time to put together a playlist around a new album as the Bros Barnett did for NTS and manage to unlock it for their listeners while doing so. So that mix contains a mixture of 80s pop (Depeche, Prefab Sprout) esoteric oddness (Coil, Bark Psychosis) and composition (Michael Nyman, Steve Reich, Thomas Adès) and at once seems to provide a sonic palette for Into The Rose despite the fact that nothing on there sounds like the album, in the way that many groups emulate the past in this never-ending age of ironic reference. Within all this, on Inside The Rose These New Puritans explore a lost intellectual pop classicism and make it thrillingly modern. They've achieved this by drawing on the strengths of the past two albums, combining and pushing them somewhere new. On 'Anti–Gravity' and 'Beyond Black Suns' for instance the heavy rhythms and mechanisation of Hidden combines wondrously with the arrangements of Field Of Reeds. Similarly, 'Into The Fire' has a few bars of an utterly lovely piano melody and "oooo ahhh" vocalisations suddenly chopped into by urgently and heavily shuffling percussion. 'Anti–Gravity' has a sonic echo Japan's Tim Drum as reimagined via Sino Grime. I keep getting Tears For Fears too, but in the best possible way, the pomposity replaced by a deep sensuality, something picked up on by the artist Hayley Weir in the gender blurring erotic short film she made for 'Into The Rose' (watch above). This is achieved by the sheer richness of the production, the bass cavernous, percussion delicately shaking, everything held around it just so.

This allows the vocals to the fore. There are what sounds like a mournful children's choir, abstracted melodies, hums and chants. Jack Barnett's voice has a strange romance, an unplaceable smooth drawling texture that slides in and out of the foreground with a vocal ensemble made up of Taiwanese singer Scintii, Elisa Rodrigues, David Tibet of Current 93, Fred Macpherson, Graham Sutton and soprano Micaela Haslam. In this expertly arranged collective emerges the emotional subtlety that is the true strength of this record. There's even a naivety at times, never forced but ever-present, far from the group who once rapped "we want war". In the title track, Barnett absently rhymes "Inside the rose / how does it grow / how do you know / where does it go" as strings slide past like summer ripples. The pattern is continued with 'Where The Trees Are On Fire', which came to Barnett in a dream, and again sounds like a lullaby obscure in its meaning. Could the trees be ablaze with the glory of autumn, or are they caught in an apocalyptic inferno?

For lyrically as well as sonically, this is a visionary record, rich with fire, energy, elements, the sky, and invocations - as the opening track, an ode to a Luciferian fallen star, has it "An addiction / To the impossible / Let's go back to the underworld / Let's go back inside". In all this rich abstraction and nuance, These New Puritans remain at odds with their time. In a recent interview with Crack magazine they attacked the UK for its anti-art tendencies where the "ultimate sin" is to be serious about your work. "I think there are two ideas of what art should do," Jack Barnett added, "One that it should reflect and be a mirror to its age, and another that it should go beyond it. I always prefer stuff that sits in the latter category."

I think this gets to the crux of why These New Puritans matter in 2019, in the same way as Talk Talk (that huge influence to whom they're often compared) mattered in the 80s and early 90s. Escapism doesn't have to mean trite simplicity, neither does it have to mean oblivion, a surrender to music as overwhelming spectacle and artlessly compressed sonic overload. What These New Puritans offer with Inside The Rose is something rich, deep and warm, constantly shifting, challenging. This is art for the head, for the heart, for the soul. As Jack Barnett sings on 'A—R—P', "let this music be a kind of paradise / a kind of nightmare / a kind of I don't care". That surely is everything pop music should be.

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