[sic] Magazine

These New Puritans – Hidden

I wrote in a blog in 2008 after seeing TNP support Blood Red Shoes “These New Puritans are difficult to describe, certainly no laugh a minute goons but with a gravity and strength of purpose that is hard not to be impressed by. Motoric bass and chiming guitar remind me slightly of Killing Joke and Random Hold but no one of recent vintage. Their music seems to have no obvious contemporaries and it’s refreshing to see a band completely ploughing their own furrow. A lack of anything approaching a catchy track is thus far their drawback. They make perfect sense live but on recorded tracks they haven’t had the same impact on me.” They came as a pleasant (though “pleasant” is decidedly the wrong word) surprise after being under whelmed by recorded stuff. No such underwhelming reactions from the repeated listens to Hidden I’ve had in the last 2 weeks.

All sorts of things are hidden – meanings, agendas but I find hidden under-currents musical and lyrical. Motifs crop up throughout as in classical pieces – it’s hard not to see Jack Barnett as having listened to ‘modern’ classical music. Benjamin Brittan has been mentioned (and see also Michael Tippet and more recently Gavin Bryars). But for all the ‘classical’ there is the ‘found’. Chains rattle and swords clash bringing to mind the 36 Chambers of the Wu Tang Clan. The organic is perfectly merged with the wholly synthetic. Fire-Power could almost be a son of the ‘round’ in London’s Burning (“fire, fire”).

To a classically uneducated ear (i.e. mine) the main ‘classical themes’ are Arabic and the firmly English idea of the Brass Band (although the use here reminds of nothing more than the themes from Oliver Postgate TV series like Ivor The Engine). This actually sets itself out texturally as a complete piece with varying themes and it is appropriate it should focus on the matters most pressing to us in the 21st century – however obliquely.

The glaringly ‘hidden’ thing, though, is the lyrics – half printed, half not. The words are fairly clear on the tracks but some muffled ones are added. The phrase “We Want War” is a whisper around the actual lyrics. ‘Attack Music’ says “it was September – harmful logic, this is attack music”. That points us firmly in a 9/11 direction. “No longer human, you are a weapon”. I don’t think I’m reading too much into it.

It must be listened to repeatedly and completely. Also it sounds very flat on a bog standard computer playback. It NEEDS good stereo & bass to give up all its secrets. In common with classical music it may be at it’s purest and most affecting live. Certainly when I saw them recently at Rough Trade East the already lengthy Attack Music was extended and changed quiet a lot from the recorded version.

Some points of reference are unlikely to be pointed out by the whipper-snappers at the NME (and could be imagined by me) Three Thousand has the stealth and the menace of Peter Gabriel’s track ‘Intruder’. Hologram brought me to comparisons to bedroom constructs like Just Jack or White Town. But it hit me finally that Robert Wyatt is the spiritual Father of much of this album and it presents a 21st century take on the spirit of very English exploration of Wyatt solo and Soft Machine.