Thursday, April 24, 2008

These New Puritans - Beat Pyramid

Buzz bands come in all shapes and sizes, but English buzz bands tend to wander around the same territory. That is post-punk. These New Puritans follow after the Arctic Monkeys and the Klaxons in the mining of similar influences (Gang of Four chief amongst them). TNP even share a certain quality with Art Brut. And actually, they sound a lot like Franz Ferdinand at times too. It's just too bad that Vampire Weekend had to come in and spoil everyone's fun...TNP might sell a few copies in the UK, but I am 90% sure they will never be more popular than any of those above-mentioned post-punk revivalist bands in America. Bloc Party will continue to dominate the genre in this country, and it's getting dicey to call Franz Ferdinand post-punk when they share a certain quality with Interpol, and then you're starting to lose your post-punk dedication to driving beats, an attitude beyond pissed off, and some atonality/avante-garde noise textures thrown in to separate the bandwagon-jumping frat boys from the more sneering snobs of modern rock criticism. TNP won't necessarily be for everyone, but they do what's been done before as well as anybody to come along in recent years. And their name is a reference to a Fall song (a fact no one ever mentions, which just goes to show that the Fall continue to be unappreciated, despite overwhelming evidence that they may in fact be one of the greatest groups of all time), so they have to have some intelligence, right?

The album starts fast and doesn't let up for a good long while. Ignoring the transitional/"fake" tracks that consist of a few seconds of noise experimentation (such as the opening and closing tracks, "ce I will say" and "This twice, I will" or whatever the cut off is, further giving the appearance of the album as a cryptogram), opener "Numerology (Numbers)" could be a single and features the infectious barked interrogative, "What's your favorite number? What does it mean?" Singer/guitarist Jack Barnett then goes into detail about what most of the numbers from 1-9 represent ("Number 1, is the individual, Number 2, duality...") and the song is extremely thought-provoking.

If the first track isn't catchy enough to be a single then the second track "Colours" might be, but I feel it's also the most reductive track on the album. It opens up with a huge slashing guitar and a big, bounding beat of the drums, then Barnett, "If not now well then when? If not now well then when?" He starts going off about different colors or something and then settles on "Gold! Gold! Gold!" as the chorus line, which is probably the worst part of the album, but succeeds very well in sounding like Franz Ferdinand.

Following track, "Swords of Truth" opens up with a sample that could be taken off a hip hop track. Then the drums come in again, and I can only describe it as sounding like a sped-up version of "Spector vs Rector" with Barnett giving his best MES derivation when he sings "This music is weightless, This music's so funny, And when I sing, So am I, you'll be slashing at the air..." then it goes into its crazy instrumental chorus part that also sounds like "Spector vs Rector"'s inscrutable utterances. Yes, I love "Swords of Truth" because it sounds most like the Fall than any other track.

"Doppelganger" is a 90 second instrumental break from the proceedings. It could almost be on a Deerhunter or Atlas Sound album if the more electronic elements of it were toned down.

"C. 16th +-" is hard to properly document with the symbols available on they keyboard, but it is a really cool song that is also single-worthy. It's much more fast-paced and restless than "Colours" and so might be the best candidate for radio play--but it's also really short and is just about how Barnett keeps repeating, "We were right we were right we were right we were right," but it's really awesome.

"En Papier" comes in like another Fall-track, gradually adding instrumentation after each bar until Barnett enters. There is a really cool bass part that comes in after the chorus as well as a little instrumental breakdown. It sounds somewhat similar to "Colours," is not as fast as "C. 16th" but may serve as the most representative track of the album as a whole. It references the themes of the other songs and conceals whatever message it may contain behind a wall "kitchen sink"-type experimental instrumentation, which drowns out the last minute of the song.

"Infinity Ytinifni" also sounds like it could be a single upon its opening and expands upon the already stated TNP formula, but then turns it into probably the best song so far on the album. It's the song where Barnett goes off about "the Pre-Socratics" and "Heraclitus" and "conspiracy theories" and the hits upon the chorus, "Infinity's not far for me" or does it turn into "Infinity's not as fast as me." ?

"Elvis" is a pretty amazing song, that I think actually is the first single off the album. It's very direct--"We're being watched by experts," could be about the buzz surrounding them. Whatever, "Elvis" might be the best song on the album. It stays more confined within pop parameters than anything else here. It may not be as interesting for the fact, but this would be this album's "A-Punk," except, as shown, it is not clearly the best song on the album, it only might be. Any song could be anyone's favorite on this one, I think.

After "Elvis," there's "9 $" (four pounds-retarded US keyboard currency exchange rate), and I have no clue what it's about. It's not annoying, but it's probably not in the running for best song on the album, though it is a pretty tidy number. "MKK3" is another pretty short song starting with your basic Gang of Four guitar slashing and bass chugging and is a good example of how Barnett can also sound like Art Brut's Eddie Argos at times. However, TNP is better than Art Brut because while they do not offer as crazy lyrics or sentiments, their message is nowhere near as clear, thus they are not quite as easy to pin down or write off.

"Navigate Colours" introduces the bizarre end to the album after a little sonic-palette cleansing, and actually sounds like a sadder, post-punk song. It sounds more like Interpol than anything else here. It's probably better than "Colours" and goes off into something different from anything else on the album by its last two minutes.

"H." is a thirty-second transitional track before closer "Costume." This is a very strange song. Very somber. Almost sounds like the Knife at first blush. Then it almost sounds weirdly enough like Sunset Rubdown when the synthesizer and vocals come in. Except Barnett doesn't sound like Spencer Krug--his voice is more fragile here than anywhere else, but it is kept simple and somber, without veering into melodrama. By the end it becomes layered and almost sounds like Radiohead-type ambitions.

That's everything on the album, and I think it shows that TNP is more interesting than TNV or VW, but I don't think they'll get as much attention as either. They aren't all that original in terms of the territory they're working within, and they sound too much like other bands. However, if they imitate the Fall more on their next album, they will probably deliver album of the year and will be a buzz band two years from now and no one will remember their debut coming out or else they will drop off the face of the Earth and no one will remember them in three years. Still, a very promising debut, and a hint of more exciting things to come in from the English music scene.


Anonymous said...

So basically, you're saying that unless they sound like Pavement (who were accused early on of ripping off the Fall) no one will care about them?

JK said...

Ripping off the Fall does not equal sounding like Pavement. Repeat.
Ripping off the Fall does not equal sounding like Pavement.
Your opinions are accusatory.

Anonymous said...

I love you Jack.