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These New Puritans – Hidden

on February 22, 2010, 3:15pm

You may have heard breakbeat.You have certainly heard vocal choirs and woodwind arrangements. And you’ve probably heard new wave.But my guess is, up until this point, you haven’t heard much like These New Puritans’ Hidden.

Perhaps frontman Jack Barnett best described his band’s sound on Hidden preemptively in a 2007 interview with Drowned in Sound:“I’m starting to draw everything together. The next thing is going to be Steve Reich meets dancehall.”Before reading that, I honestly could not coherently explain what this band sounds like.But now it hits me, “Holy shit! Hidden is Music For 18 Musicians getting down and dirty with Bounty Killer.”Yeah, that’s a dance I want to get in on.

Even if that description makes some sense to you, These New Puritans are no calculated fusion.The sounds you’ll hear on Hidden, the band’s follow-up to 2008’s Beat Pyramid, aren’t that clear-cut.The elements are so strangely perfect together that the result sounds entirely different from the two most easily associated genres or artists.Try to place this music into a specific era, and you’ll find your head in a bit of pain from all the scratching.Imagine the loudest bass drums you’ve ever heard backing chimes, bassoon/flute compositions, church choirs, skittish samples, and uttered vocals that occasionally explode.Imagine if all that happened in the same song.Now, I know I’m asking a lot here, but imagine if all this forged one impossibly infectious concoction of new wave, classical, dancehall, breakbeat, and rock. If you can do all that, you’ve got a fragment of an idea of just how mind-blowing Hidden really is.But you can’t really imagine this stuff. You simply have to hear it.

A bassoon solo opens the record.It’s quiet enough to hear the valves being released and slow enough for you to be a bit weary and confused.Have no fear: this record is about to hit you in the face pretty hard.After the two-minute introductory qualities of “Time Xone”,“We Want War” provides what could have easily soundtracked a number of pre-battle scenes in various films.The pump-up quality of this stuff is almost ridiculous. Pounding, near tribal bass drums, clicking drumsticks, sweeping vocal choirs, and even sampled swords being unsheathed combine for an unexpected headbanger. Think Reggaeton for the middle ages. Barnett whispers his subdued anger before repeatedly chanting “We want war” in the open space between the drum patterns.The stuff explodes with ferocity, mellows out into instrumental bliss, and then opens the floor up for more chaos near each song’s end.“Three Thousand” continues along the same lines and segues into the relative tranquility of “Hologram”, an off-kilter piano arrangement. The tranquility is short-lived, as earth shattering drums make a return with “Attack Music”. This sort of weaving in and out of dark build-ups and slow comedowns populates every minute of this record. You’re thrown an invitation for a fight one minute and then cuddled to sleep the next. But these guys aren’t soft. As they state at the record’s outset, they want war.

Barnett and co. seem well interested in soundtracking, or at least narrating battle.The tracklist alone seems very war oriented.The sounds are dark, sweeping, and grandiose, even in their danceability.This is the stuff of nightmarish church raves, of gothic temples on bad acid.If there was ever a pre-war party at St. Paul’s, these guys would be performing at it.But, for a band called These New Puritans and a frontman who occasionally sports a feathery chain mail vest, this isn’t all too surprising.What is surprising is how utterly phenomenal these songs sound, despite such a typically cheesy subject matter.The songs are abstract in their warrior qualities, which is what makes them somewhat universal.They’re not about battle, but the idea of battle as a metaphor.But, if they ever get around to producing an art house remake of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, don’t forget to call these guys up.

These New Puritans are certainly new, though they’ve now got two albums under their belt.The sound they’re crafting is as fresh as it comes, and they’re still a young band.They are puritanical only in the sense that they aren’t screwing around.This music is in no way lazy, nor is it haphazard.This is well-crafted, thought out stuff.  It’s also very restrictive in instrumentation, consisting for the most part only of drums, woodwinds, samples, and vocals. As far as I can tell, there is almost no guitar or bass on here.  In that sense, these guys are their own kind of puritans. And though normally such a name would be considered a bit pretentious, this music is purely magnificent.“Shut the door/Shut the door/’cause I’m staying here/the world might disappear/under blankets of snow,” sings Barnett atop warm brass on “Hollogram”.If the music he makes is this brilliant, this original, then Barnett can stay here as long as he damn well pleases.Let’s just hope he and the rest of the Puritans don’t act on their song subjects during their stay with us.Or, who knows; If it sounds this good maybe we’ll just give in and join in on the battle.

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