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. But there was enough to Beat Pyramid to suggest this young Southend-on-Sea band had a rather good idea of what they were doing.
Now their second album arrives, and impressively it turns out that Barnett’s blue-sky dreaming is actually a pretty accurate description of Hidden – heavily beat-driven, almost entirely absent of guitars, and laced with large amounts of elaborately arranged woodwind and brass.
Does it work? Largely, yes – nowhere better than on We Want War, which kicks off the album following a short introduction. Seven minutes of tinny synthesised horns, droning bassoon, vaguely Timbaland drums and wood-on-wood clacks, it drifts in an eerie limbo between Massive Attack’s Mezzanine and Liars’ witchier material, and then chucks in a choir as well for good measure. Hidden, you feel, is not intended to be easily palatable.
Attack Music winds in the sound of breaking glass and drawn swords amidst crunchy digital dancehall beats. Fire–Power finds Barnett chanting “This is a mind attack / This is a world attack!” over naked, crashing drums. A rare moment of prettiness comes on Hologram, a drum stomp dressed up in twinkling piano and intimate, poignant vocals. Elsewhere, the mood is pagan, hallucinogenic, severe.
But there is plenty of focus here. Barnett has taken pains to explain his band are “anti-experimental”, by which he presumably means he’s fundamentally opposed to musicians floundering around in the hope they might accidentally do something interesting. These New Puritans, meanwhile, sound utterly exact, precise. It’s not out to please you, but Hidden is well worthy of investigation. --Louis Pattison
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