Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

These New Puritans - Hidden

These New Puritans

Released 2010 on Angular/Domino
Reviewed by Fatalist, 27/04/2010ce

How many albums I wonder fail to find the audience and acclaim they deserve because of preconceptions that stop people from seeking out and hearing them? I don’t know about you, but I’m sure there’s a whole slew of albums that get released each year that my musical pig-headedness stops me from investigating, despite the fact that I’d love them if only I heard them…

I strongly suspect that These New Puritans may be a case in point for many listeners, who’ll take one look at this group of pasty faced indie tykes barely out of their teens, and think “not for me”.

If you’re one of those people, then I strongly urge you to reconsider. ‘Hidden’ is a truly astonishing piece of work that really does sound like nothing else around at the moment. No jangly guitars and home-spun harmony vocals for this lot – Hidden is a fearsome monolith of an album, built around a sonic framework of cymbal-less drumming, gut-shuddering bass frequencies, strangely medieval keyboard passages, and a woodwind section. The Fratellis this ain’t.

Although it’s musically in a different place, it does remind me of Portishead’s Third, sharing the same thrillingly oppressive, Stygian darkness as 'Machine Gun’ and ‘We Carry On’. Liars have also operated in similar territory, and going back a bit, there’s a definite (though probably unconscious) connection with drum-heavy, pagan industrialists such as The Young Gods and Cranes.

But TNP have come up with a sound and concept that’s uniquely their own, executed with a fiercely singular vision. ‘Time Xone’ opens proceedings, a delicate but unsettling composition for just windwind that recurs as a motif throughout the album. TNP might cite Benjamin Britten as an influence here, but to these plebian ears, it puts me in mind of similar passages on Mark Hollis’s solo album, sombre yet coiled.

‘We Want War’ is the front-ended centrepiece of the album, seven and a half minutes of psycho-geographic slash and burn through the blackened Thames estuary of TNP’s imagination, urgent clipped vocals pushing against pounding drums and a blizzard of buzz guitar. Then at the halfway point, the song reaches higher ground, a ghostly choir chanting “Freedom!” as the woodwind gradually reasserts itself, breaking the fever dream and leaving the listener both exhilarated and disturbed. Oh, and this was the album’s lead single…

Other highlights include ‘Attack Music’, where sinister stabs of dubstep-derived sub-bass are punctuated by a rather fruity bassoon, before the chorus is sung by what sounds like the cast of Oliver chained to a giant piece of clanking machinery. There’s also the lovely ‘Hologram’, where mainman Jack Barnett sounds not unlike a young Robert Wyatt yearning over a cut-up piano figure.

The album reaches its pinnacle of portentousness (in the best possible way) on ‘Orion’, massed ranks of wordless voices filling the dome of the night sky. And just when you think you can’t take any more hyper-intense drumming, ‘White Chords’ comes as a melodic salve on a wave of shimmering guitar and a vocal line that has me thinking of Mansun circa ‘Six’.

Some might find Hidden to be unbearably pretentious, but there’s an intellectual seriousness and rigour at work here that’s brave and actually rather exciting. Push aside those preconceptions – this just might be one of the most amazing things you’ve heard in years.

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