These New Puritans albums
Led by twin brothers Jack and George Barnett, These New Puritans are one of the greatest bands of the 21st century. They take some of what has come before (the post rock scene of the 1990’s mixed with Baroque Era Classical music) and create something that is entirely unique in rock n roll today. Their best album so far, 2010’s Hidden, is a milestone recording that pushes recording techniques and sounds to brave new heights. Never before has the old fashioned met the modern world with such electrifying results.
Jack Barnett– Vocals, Guitar
George Barnett – Drums, Percussion
Thomas Hein – Bass, Sampler
Sophie Sleigh-Johnson- Keyboardist
Talk Talk, Penguin Café Orchestra, Bark Psychosis, Wire, Public Image Limited
2008 – (2.5 / 5) – Beat Pyramid
2010 – (5 / 5)+ – Hidden
2013 – (4.5 / 5) – Field of Reeds
2019 – (5 / 5) – Inside the Rose
Beat Pyramid – (2.5 / 5)
An interesting debut, with a handful of well fleshed out ideas. It is largely a mess though, and sounds very of the time with influences such as the dance punk of PIL, Wire, and Gang of Four.
Greatest Songs: Swords of Truth, Elvis, Numerology
Hidden – (5 / 5)+
Take everything you know about rock music and throw it out the window, then build it up from scratch using 21st century technology. I can’t think of a better analogy for Hidden, the best record of the first half of the 2010s. It is rare that a band creates its own world on an album, but this band does that here with tribal and classical influences. Every song is injected with a sense of personal dread, a kind of longing to create something completely new. Everything works too, “Fire Power” and “Time Xone” are the only ones that leave me a little perplexed but after several listens they are enjoyable too. There is no other album recently that has left me more interested and enthralled. The method in which it was recorded involved a thirteen-piece orchestra, live tracking, and a variety of laptops simultaneously making sounds and recording them. Every one compares it to Talk Talk, but the only thing that sounds like them is that….no one sounds like them.
Now if you but it together that it was produced by Graham Sutton of Bark Psychosis, the real successor to Talk Talk back in the early 90’s, and you may have something there. Whether it be “Orion” the ethereal date song, “Attack Music” and “Three Thousand” the tribal force rock songs (two of the greatest rock songs of all time for sure), “White Chords” and “Hologram” which are new kinds of disjointed ballads, “We Want War” and “Drum Courts – Where Corals Lie” which use collage and experiment with structure, or closer “5” which takes you into orbit using old time madrigals and xylophones, this is music that is both psychedelic and raw. New genre, new sound, I don’t know what to call it besides “revolutionary”.
Greatest Songs: Three Thousand, Hologram, Orion, Attack Music, We Want War
Fields of Reeds – (4.5 / 5)
These New Puritans are the true heirs to Talk Talk in every since of the word. Consequently, that means their sound grows in quality and range of each album. Their debut record in 2008 was inconsistent and overbearing at times, but 2010’s Hidden and 2013’s Field of Reeds take that sound to its (illogical) conclusion. If Hidden was their Spirit of Eden, Field of Reeds is their Laughing Stock. Field of Reeds employs opera style singing to free form compositions in “V (island song)”, repetitive synth from the depths of space on “Organ Eternal”, and a sense of longing like no other on the title track and “Fragment Two”. The meandering style can take some getting use to if listening to rock n roll is your normal mode, as songs such as “Nothing Else”, “Dream”, and opener “This Guys In Love With You” try the listener’s attention span at times. If the record is being judged solely on its entertainment value, those three songs are perhaps the most lacking and could be labled as too ponderous for their own good.
Listening to this album is akin to take your first step on a newly discovered planet in a new galaxy: scary, exciting, and baffling. But Field of Reeds is a triumph for music, it is a step in sound quality and production much like Tortoise and post rock bands were is the 90’s. Guest vocalist Elisa Rodrigues and guest compaoser Michal Ven Der Aa, make songs such as “The Light In Your Name” and “Spiral” majestic and rhythmically loose experiments more akin to 20th century classical music. Field of Reeds use of alternate instruments not traditionally used in rock music (collage sample machine, oboes, bassoons, tympanis, hawk screeches, breaking glass) add to the sense that band like TNP are needed to push rock music in new directions WHILE ALSO being entertaining and melodic songs. They fight and struggle for their art, like all great bands do.
Greatest Songs: V, Organ Eternal, Fragment Two
Inside the Rose – (5 / 5)
Despite a six year silence between albums, albeit a live album and some live performances, the band has lost none of it’s unique sound on fourth album Inside the Rose. They continue to be hard to define, and this is their most psychedelic and laid-back sounding record yet, somehow creating music defined as “rock” without a guitar to be found. Each song feeds into the next in away thought sound well planned out but also sort of a stream of consciousness flow. Title track “Into the Rose” is a traditional sounding mood piece starting out, but halfway through pulls a new age influence a la Enya and shifts by losing its rhythm and form and endures a mournful coda. “Anti Gravity” and “Into the Fire” recall their masterwork Hidden, with intricate percussion by George Barnett and dreamy vocals, full of repeating harmonics and a sort of gothic rock n roll influence (sort of??). “Six” and “Lost Angel” are mainly instrumental, short interludes that allow the listener to contemplate the new cosmic formations they have been witnessed to.
Still, those are the more easily comprehensible songs. “Infinity Vibraphones” as a hell of on opening track to the album, only revealing its bizarre melody upon multiple listens and we get the impression that the song could easily have been twice as long and been just as good. “Beyond Black Suns” is literally two songs happening at the same time, one sang by lead singer Jack Barnett and the other whispered by guest female vocalist, and the way the two songs collide throughout operatic interludes is a wonder to behold. Best of all there is “A-R-P”, perhaps the best song on here brings minimalist synthesizer work of Field of Reeds back to reveal the soul of the group is still lost in the ether; the elongated intro giving way to a pounding crescendo of yearning by the end. Only song that fails to resonate with me is the nursery rhyme “Where the Trees are On Fire”, as it meanders around without purpose a bit much for my tastes. In all, this is the shortest record by the group yet at only 40 minutes, which prevents us from being fatigued at all by the challenging ideas and leaves us wanting more. The art of These New Puritans remains complex and impenetrable, like all great works of art should be.
Best Songs: ARP, Infinity Vibraphones, Anti Gravity, Beyond Black Suns