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Tag: These New Puritans review

Lushly Allusive, Symphonic Eco-Disaster Anthems From These New Puritans

These New Puritans occupy a uniquely uneasy space between ornately symphonic rock and minimalist postrock. Their latest album Inside the Rose – streaming at Soundcloud – is somewhat icier and techier than their previous work. The obvious comparison is Radiohead, but this British band are more darkly lyrical and rely on what can be relentless grey-sky sonics instead of cynical glitchiness.

Infinity Vibraphones is an apt title for the album’s opening track, those rippling textures contrasting with ominous cloudbanks of bassy string synth. Frontman Jack Barnett’s hushed, conspiratorial vocals parse a surreal litany of elements, some radioactive and some not. A“sea of plastic horses” figures into what seems to be a dystopic scenario. His brother George’s dancing drumbeat gets trickier and then smooths out again: a more organic Radiohead with a better singer.

The formula is the same in Anti-Gravity, with spare synth and piano figures in place of the vibes: “Never get up, never give up” is the mantra. “This is a fire we can’t put out…all those wise men say nothing,” the group’s frontman intones in the brooding, tectonically shifting, new wave-tinged Beyond Black Suns. The response, through a robotic effect, is “This isn’t yesterday.”

The album’s title track has an airy intro and a staggered beat; it could be an eco-disaster parable, or simply an allusive portrait of love gone wrong. Brassy ambience rises and subsides in Where the Trees Are on Fire, with a crushingly sarcastic ersatz nursery rhyme of a lyric. Into the Fire has tumbling syncopation and unexpected hip-hop touches: it’s nowhere near as incendiary as the title would imply.

The brief string-and-piano theme Lost Angel contrasts with the loopy synths and icy Terminator soundtrack techiness of A R P: “This is not a dream, this is really happening,” the bandleader cautions .

They wrap up the album with a slow, hypnotic, circling processional theme simply titled Six. This is a good record for a rainy day when you can spend some time with it and explore its deceptive depths.

These New Puritans Hold the Crowd Rapt at Bowery Ballroom

If you think that slow, pensive minimalist post-artrock can’t possibly be exciting, you’ve never seen These New Puritans in concert. Last night at Bowery Ballroom they filled the space despite the deluge outside and entertained a hushed, adoring crowd with an unexpectedly kinetic, meticulously orchestrated show. The set followed an artfully conceived, steady trajectory from stately unease to something just short of titanic, epic grandeur: what makes this band so consistently interesting and compelling is how they never go over the top, or, for that matter, never waste any notes. This seven-piece edition of the band followed frontman Jack Barnett’s uneasily shapeshifting, slow-to-midtempo, rhythmically emphatic compositions with a focus that was both precise and animated, and as the show went on, Barnett put down his five-string bass and got a chance to croon with a distant angst in much the same vein as Botanica’s Paul Wallfisch. That’s a hard line to walk without falling over into cliche, but Barnett pulled it off.

His band’s roughly hour-and-a-half set made the most sense as a long suite. Guest singer Elisa Rodrigues sang resonant, wary harmonies in tandem with the careful, methodically shifting lines from the trumpet and horn – on album, the band often relies on low-register reeds, so this instrumentation added an ambered lustre to the grey-sky sonics. Two keyboardists, a woman playing nimble, baroque-tinged lines on electric piano and a guy switching between electronic keys, a mixing desk, and drums on one number, intertwined alternately snaking and broodingly pulsing lines. Propelling the outfit with a terse, nuanced brilliance was drummer George Barnett. This is why drum machines suck: all of the parts he was playing could have been pre-recorded and crammed into somebody’s loop pedal. But watching him negotiate Fragment Two with one tricky, almost imperceptible rhythmic and dynamic shift after another, slowly adding or subtracting from the sound, was pure magic. With the split-second agility of a symphony orchestra timpanist and the flair of a stadium rock drummer, he stole the show.

After establishing a slow, marching ambience, sort of the sonic equivalent of a Cormac McCarthy postapocalyptic novel, the pianist led them into the hypnotic spirals of Organ Eternal, one of the highlights of the band’s latest album Field of Reeds, equal parts Terry Riley and Radiohead. An early interlude saw the band running variations on an otherworldly Ethiopiques riff – like Dead Can Dance playing Transglobal Underground at halfspeed – before picking up the pace with a tantalizingly allusive levantine dance that was more eerie cinematic theme than slinky Middle Eastern snakecharmer music. They wound up the show with a nocturnal, slowly crawling mood piece that sent the crowd back out into the rain humming it. These New Puritans are currently on US tour, with shows at Space in Evanston, IL on May 2, the Empty Bottle Chicago on May 3 and the Roxy in LA on May 5; if you happen to be around when they’re in town, and dark, artsy sounds are your thing, don’t miss them.

These New Puritans Bring Their Brooding Art-Rock Themes to Bowery Ballroom

 

This blog didn’t exist when These New Puritans recorded their landmark debut, Beat Pyramid, in 2008. It was a big deal then, and the moody British art-rock band’s initial release remains one of the most indelibly original recordings of the past several years. Their latest album Field of Reeds is streaming at Spotify, and they’ve got a long-awaited NYC gig coming up on April 30 at 9 PM at Bowery Ballroom. Advance tickets are $20 and very highly recommended. If you like the idea of Radiohead but find the reality unapproachably cold and mechanical, you will find These New Puritans far more chillingly alive.

The latest album’s opening instrumental The Way That I Do gives you a good idea of their game plan. An icy, minimalistic piano dirge with disembodied vocals – Mum without the synthesizers – gives a way to a broodingly sustained orchestral arangement, then the piano comes back in and they take it out with emphatic trumpet against swirly upper-register organ. It could be a detective film theme, from the kind of movie where the sleuth solves the case and then moves on to the next grisly scene.

Fragment Two opens with frontman Jack Barnett’s simple circular piano theme juxtaposed against atmospheric strings and echoey backing vocals, like a more tuneful take on what the Blue Nile were doing in the late 80s. There’s a gothic aspect to these slowly unwinding, wounded melodies, as well as elements of trippy 90s chillout music, but drummer George Barnett maintains a counterintuitive pulse that livens the hypnotic layers of keys, strings and woodwinds.

A cinematic sweep develops methodically out of another minimamalist dirge in The Light in Your Name. It’s practically a tone poem, echoing Radiohead but rooted in a peat bog rather than drifting through deep space. The epic V (Island Song) opens with a similarly downcast, Smog-like ambience and then alternates between an insistent, piano-driven march and a slinkier, more trancey trip-hop groove. Spiral sets guest chanteuse Elisa Rodrigues’ creepily processed vocals against the bandleader’s wintry baritone over ominously shifting cumulo-nimbus washes of sound that eventually give way to a slow, elegant, baroque-inflected woodwind theme.

Organ Eternal balances Smog moroseness with a circular keyboard riff and lush orchestration that evokes composer Missy Mazzoli‘s art-rock band Victoire. Nothing Else, the album’s longest track, is also its most anthemic and cinematic: it figures that the central instrument would be a carefully modulated, resonant bass clarinet. Dream, sung airily by Rodrigues, could be Stereolab with vibraphone and orchestra in place of the synthesizers. The album ends with the title track, a Twin Peaks choir of men’s voices contrasting with dancing vibraphone and an anthemic vocal interlude. This is troubled and troubling but also unexpectedly comforting music, not what you typically hear at a Bowery Ballroom gig but perfect for the room’s enveloping sonics.