When I come across the word “puritan,” other words instantly come to mind: moralistic, prudish, repressed, sententious, and narrow-minded. Of course there is another way to look at it; like the historical puritans, there is an attempt at purity, a sense of returning to the most essential elements. And that is what you get with These New Puritans’ album, “Hidden” (18 January 2010 in the UK, 2 March 2010 in the USA). In this grandiose sophomore effort, what are being purified are our preconceived notions of music and musical classification. What is being hidden is a work of art that is unexpected. To label this album simply as “art rock” would be a great injustice… to label this album anything would be a great injustice. From the very concept of how to employ noise to create melody to the complete genre bending – genre inverting! – this album’s claim to fame is its ability to bombastically question your notions of what music proper is, while delivering an experience that’s inviting, urgent, and irresistible.
Opening with “Time Xone,” a brass instrumental slightly over two minutes, the song moves as slow as dirge and just builds the anticipation for the second track, “We Want War”: the symphony meets the disco. Not the kind of song that you expect from a “rock band” – both using the musical motifs of the opening with a dance beat – the percussion and the nightmarish backing vocal arrangements are haunting. Then there is the dark “Three Thousand”: almost rapped as if by a vocalist that has no vocal rhythm, the song again incorporates dance elements, while flirting with darkwave. This is one of the most sinister sounding songs I have heard in ages.
The album then abruptly changes pace on “Hologram.” This song really displays the pop sensibility of These New Puritans; essentially a pop song with a harrowing edge, the song is still orchestrated and sonically luscious as the previous and following songs.
And of course I am tempted to go right through this album and add my two cents about each and every song. From the dancehall vocals backed by an eerie chorus of children in “Attack Music” to the primitive, almost worshipping feel of “Fire-Power,” from the gothic “Orion” with that eerie chorus again to the simple and short empathic “Canticle,” the album is consistently full of music that is unexpected, constantly shifting and testing your ears. With a nod to intellectualism, they incorporate Richard Garnett’s “Where Coral Lies” into “Drum Courts” – nothing like a little bit of intertextualization. But this is not a generic cover of a song, nor is it a passive sample. The poem/song has been deconstructed, reconceived, and completely assimilated into the album. This is so well done, that even if you know the poem, it may pass you by without notice. “White Chords” is the last song with vocals and is one of those songs with a visceral, sonic undertow that is anxiety inducing and alluring all at once, while the album comes to a close with “5”: an experimentation with orchestral arrangements.
These New Puritans (composed of songwriter Jack Barnet, his twin George, Thomas Hein, and Sophie Sleigh-Johnson) produce an album here that avoids all the clichés of art rock, mainstream music, and the banality of the indie scene. And, if as “puritans,” they are on a mission to bring music back to a purer form, without the fuss of genre conventions and media expectations, they have succeeded. “Hidden” will challenge your notions of popular music, while delivering a sonic feast that is distinct and mesmerizing. Hidden here is music that unfurls on its own terms, breathes its own life, and is unique, relevant, urgent, and thriving. Unravel it.
1. Time Xone
2. We Want War
3. Three Thousand
5. Attack Music
9. Drum Courts – Where Coral Lie
10. White Chords
Keep up with These New Puritans at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.
Here is their video for “We Want War” from their YouTube Channel: thesenewpuritans.