Monday, May 17, 2010

These New Puritans - Hidden

When we last checked in with These New Puritans, they were putting out their debut around the same time as Vampire Weekend, and I was claiming that they were the better band. Proof?

Quote #1 from review of debut:
"TNP won't necessarily be for everyone...."
It may have been clear after Beat Pyramid that TNP did not cater to the masses and did not aspire to radio airplay. But the album still had a very accessible streak running through it. This is not the case with Hidden.

Hidden is arguably the most "difficult" album I have ever heard. It has its moments of accessibility too, but overall it is a very imposing album indeed. Most notable, however, is the degree to which this doesn't even sound like the same band.

It's like a novelist trying to do something completely different (the quick obvious example is Dave Eggers moving from AHWOSG to What is the What, but those were not consecutive releases, both were successful on their own terms, and Dave Eggers is way more visible than TNP in the literary-musical analogy) with their next book so they can prove they can write about more than one topic. I don't think TNP needed to prove anything after Beat Pyramid.

Quote #2:
"...I think it shows that TNP is more interesting than TNV (Times New Viking) or VW (Vampire Weekend), but I don't think they'll get as much attention as either."

Duh. Putting out an album like Hidden will not get them any more attention either. OK. Hidden is a very ambitious album. Maybe it's Kid A in disguise. There. That is the comparison I was looking for.

Except Beat Pyramid wasn't OK Computer. I don't know what fans of TNP are making of this album. I am assuming they trust Jack Barnett and now look towards him as some sort of demi-god. I think he is crazy. There was a great feature on Pitchfork where he said he doesn't think he'll sing on any more albums and where claimed one of his favorite songs was an ultra-obscure selection from Pocahontas. I am assuming he still wears his chain mail armor onstage. In my last post, I mentioned that Kevin Drew is becoming more iconoclastic, but Barnett is way ahead of him, and at this point beyond M.E.S. himself.

I may claim their soon-to-be-former singer/frontman is crazy, but there is a method to it. It does seem to be a concept album about the end of the world. Or global warming. But Hidden is an album you could talk about for hours in trying to assess its meaning.

Not that anyone would--and this is the album's chief defect: it's so different from anything that's come before it that the listener has no bearings. Much mention is made of the lack of guitar on this album. Throw even less lyrics than before into the mix and you have a very moody, largely instrumental and atmospheric album with occasional doses of vicious noise. But unlike Sisterworld, the music is primarily orchestral, and it never veers into anything resembling punk rock.

KEEPING ALL OF THAT IN MIND, "We Want War" contains a beautiful moment or two, "Hologram" is the closest thing to a fully-pleasant experience, "Attack Music" and "Fire-Power" go back-to-back as the most straightforward stuff on the album, "Orion" has a moment or two of greatness, and that "Drum Courts..." song is definitely something, alright.

Quote #3: "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."

Neither happened, but few know who TNP are, and putting out an album like Hidden could be akin to dropping off the face of the Earth (particularly if the album is about the end of the Earth), so it is possible that TNP will become a cultural artifact by 2011 and no one will know they ever existed.

OK. That's not true. They're well-documented. I document them because I care about them. I don't know if Hidden will make my top 10 of 2010--but I doubt it. I just don't think I'll listen to it enough to figure it out to be able to blast it incessantly and gain some kind of pleasure from it. This is a very moody album for moods that almost don't exist--or moods that aren't advisable: ultra-depressed, evil, intellectual, portentous, and (forgive me) pretentious.

If they had listened to my advice, they could have put out a top 10 contender along with their inspirational predecessors on Domino Records, but I have a lot of respect for making a statement like Hidden. I spent money on this album--I'm crazy--and maybe it will sell as well as it needs to--but the only kind of music like this is made to accompany strange and scary movies. Perhaps there is something of Fantomas in here too.

Vampire Weekend put out their sophomore effort too, and while I haven't heard it, I'm assuming it doesn't sound too different from their self-titled. Apparently they experiment a bit, but obviously it's not as ridiculous as the experiment that is Hidden.

I've got my own prediction for the next couple years: in (or by) 2012, if the world isn't already over then Vampire Weekend will put out their third album--their Merriweather Post Pavilion masterpiece that will finally win me over--and TNP will release an album of ambient music as they transform themselves into an artier version of the Kronos Quartet.

In the meantime I will listen to Hidden, probably more often than Beat Pyramid, solely in an attempt to understand its message (and I will emerge from my underground lair with an apparatus that will bring humanity to its knees).

Maybe time travel has something to do with it too.

If there are such things as secret recordings hiding in plain sight....well there are, and this is one of them. The question is whether you think the secret will be worth hearing or not. My opinion is that I can't tell. It should be fairly easy, though, to guess how consumers will react.

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