Album Reviews

Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus

on July 22, 2013, 12:03am
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The indie-verse was in a collective state of shock just after the wild music of Fuck Buttons was first played at the opening ceremonies of last summer’s Olympics. Though one of the band’s songs in rotation was called “Olympians”, it seemed there was something off about these guys winding up on the same playlist as English immortals like the Stones and Queen, as millions, to whatever degree of understanding, listened along. For all their cosmically rupturesome passages, Fuck Buttons are both descendants of our most intelligent dance music and purveyors of something willfully over-the-top. The most brain-busting aspect of the whole situation wasn’t just the fact that Her Majesty was in London’s Olympic Stadium as a duo called “Fuck Buttons” blared from above; it was the fact that Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power are able to compose instantly gratifying tracks without having to capture the pull of a “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

Fuck Buttons’ 2009 Tarot Sport was a cascading mass of relatively pleasant sounds, almost flamboyant in its grandeur. Follow-up Slow Focus, on the other hand, is a seven-track ride at turns gloopy and glassy, invigorating and dark. It’s deeply successful on its own terms, but what we’ve got here is a failure to assimilate the most prominent trends in contemporary electronic music. That’s fine, though, because Fuck Buttons have always been pioneers to some extent, and it’s fitting that they’ve again done something insistently theirs.

If you’ve been reading up on Slow Focus but haven’t tuned in yet, it’s likely you’ve heard there’s a deep hip-hop influence at work here. This is relatively true. “Certainly the philosophy of hip-hop is quite engaging,” Hung recently told Pitchfork in response to a question about the beats and tempos here that conjure rap’s heaviest sounds. But it’s not like Fuck Buttons have taken minor-key trap music to the widescreen proportions TNGHT have. Sure, lead single “The Red Wing” opens with something like a 22nd-century breakbeat; the stuttering drums that kick in on closer “Hidden XS” bring to mind any number of arena-appropriate cuts from AraabMuzik’s For Professional Use Only. But those moments are exceptions, as Slow Focus is dominated by heavenward synths and various atmospheric coatings.

Typical of Fuck Buttons, the tracks here tend to be long, with only two clocking in at less than five minutes. That means there’s plenty of time for these songs to lock into some kind of groove, and most get there exceptionally fast. Pervading the festivities is an apparent affinity for what’s been called the semantics of post-rock – namely the process of windup, followed by swell, and then climax. And while these grooves do throb, it’s just as satisfying when they begin to retreat, leaving behind glinting walls of sound not unlike those of Power’s solo endeavor Blanck Mass (see the last stretches of opener “Brainfreeze”).

All told, this is pretty epic stuff. You won’t mistake anything here for the drastic heave of the last Swans album, but both LPs were conceived and built on the same seismic scale. It’s important to remember, here, that it’s been a little while since the last Fuck Buttons record, and these overly precise sonics strike as the result of perfectionism regardless of how long Hung and Power were actually hard at work on Slow Focus. There was about a year and a half between debut Street Horrrsing and Tarot Sport. Something on Fuck Buttons’ timeline convinced Hung and Power that certain things can wait four years. While that greater stretch of time isn’t necessarily proportionate to the results, Slow Focus wears its time well and matches their grand sights.

Essential Tracks: “The Red Wing”, “Sentients”, and “Hidden XS”

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