Smart, ambitious and a change from the usual indie fodder; ‘Hidden’ mixed classical aspirations with electronics to produce one of 2010’s more interesting records.

Unfortunately the bands attitude stinks, and they seem to have certain ego problems, but they can sure make some opus aspiring music.

Dark stirrings indeed.

These New Puritans – ‘Hidden’

Angular Recordings/ Domino Records 2010

Vinyl (with free mp3 download option)/ Download / CD

Side A.

1. Time Xone     (2:07)
2. We Want War     (7:25)
3. Three Thousand     (2:49)
4. Hologram     (2:23)
5. Attack Music     (4:48)
6. Fire – Power     (3:20)

Side B.

1. Orion     (4:31)
2. Canticle     (1:12)
3. Drum Courts – Where Corals Lie     (6:14)
4. White Chords     (3:42)
5. 5     (4:33)

So this year’s new shade of black comes courtesy of Southend- on- Seas Cromwellian moniker evoking These New Puritans; a band that sport a look akin to foot soldiers during the War of the Roses ala Edmund Blackadder.
They wax lyrical evocative prose steeped in both literary and musical pretensions that hark back and forth across an array of historical periods.
Even the cover to this their second long player, ‘Hidden, sports mysterious connotations with what seems to be a labyrinth pattern embossed on the front, and a typeface graphic that seems to have been spat out – not dissimilar to the art work found on many a dark metal album sleeve.

The music itself could be labeled as clever indie, or be
filed under  highly ambitious with its film soundtrack aspirations, and move away from the more conventional instruments to using a mix of both Foley effects and classical strains.
There are still the odd glimpses and flashes of guitar work, though some commentators have already jumped the gun yet again in pronouncing its demise.

Woodwind, brass and a catalogue of orchestral props are used alongside programmed beats and low-end bass, the kind found in dub step and drum and bass.
The monotone vocal delivery draws comparison to Massive Attack with the downbeat poetic narration,  and half whispered un-emotive monologue,  lending an air of doom.
Frontman Jack Barnett is accompanied by both the frail harmonics of Sophie Sleigh-Johnson and a haunting all female choir – who sound like an adolescent chapter of South London’s Gaggle. These choral choruses ran throughout and partly use elements of composer John Rutters directed version of Richard Rodney Bennett’s ‘Sea Change’ opus, which lend a certain gravitas to the mix and heighten the serious illusions to chilling pomp and spooky mysticism.

Most of the tracks are cut from a similar cloth and follow a theme, one that in part is inspired by the compositions of challenging composers such as Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Michael Nyman.
Their techniques and timing can be found running deep throughout every bar and intonation, even the pauses and spaces can be traced back to this trio of maestros work.

So what do we get on ‘Hidden’ exactly?
Well from the very first opening stirring of clarinets, French and flugelhorns on ‘Time Xone’, we are gently introduced to the start of a musical suite, reminiscent of ‘Tommy’,  though slightly subdued.
This impromptu grandstand band rendition brings in the Japanese taiko drum heavy ‘We Want War’, an unsettling apocalyptic chant that manages to include the anarchic menace of An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump with an emphasis on cinemascope. A tale of the Thames estuary landscape, through the misty eyed legends of Thomas Malory’s ‘Le Morte d’Arthur’, whose Sir Galahad appears from the leafy floor of a folklore forest; the virgin pure holy grail recipient born to Sir Launcelot is now a vassal for our new puritans to throw in references from their well read minds.
Suffocating endued lyrics ensue more uncomfortable experiences on ‘Three Thousand’, a spoken drawled rap of sorts intersected by the sound of knives being thrust into grapefruits, much in the theatrical and torturing Foley effects bore on Scott Walker’s ‘The Drift’.
Continuing along at a pace is ‘Attack Music’, which comes on all seething beats in the style of Bloc Party but minus the guitars and aching vocals. This startling piece of operatics manages to sound like a cross between A Clockwork Orange and a MGM biblical epic.

Side two goes all quasi mysticism with the track ‘Orion’, which features pyramids, star systems and arcane tracts of past civilisations. Liberal dashing of Eno’s ‘Dune’ and Gary Numan era ‘Telekon’ mix it with a swirling nod to Elizabethan England, whilst wrapping us in a cloak chains and stomping drums.
We’ve been here before with The Klaxons,  the mumbo-jumbo of Atlantis almost ended up burying them, so be warned.
‘Orion’ is book ended by ‘5’, which uses the same palette of sounds but with some interesting time looping, that makes the melody a pleasingly disconcerting change to the norm.

A couple of other stand out tracks include the distinctly old England of Gainsbrough sounding ‘Drum Courts – Where Corals Lie’, which evidently uses parts of Edward Elger’s ‘Where Corals Lie’ original classical suite – think ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ via ‘Blue Lines’.
The second highlight is ‘White Chords’; a more modest upbeat affair that takes us on another of those journeys along magically lit landscapes. This could be possible single material and an entrance level to the further experimental posturing on the album. – file under esoteric White Lies.

‘Hidden’ is doubtlessly brave and epic but it’s not quite the important and challenging record they’d have us believe it to be.
Yes the envelope has been pushed in the right direction, yet the excursions into the 80’s is starting to grate and I’m sorry to say act as a comfort zone.
The musicianship is faultless with well considered and structured with every effort being taken to make this a stand-out album.
Unfortunately there is nothing new here for anyone pushing thirty years of age and over, of whom I of course count myself; instead contrary to the pronouncements from the music press of new horizons this is not the first masterstroke of 2010. A great record but not a masterpiece, I mean come on people get a grip of yourselves.

Expect These New Puritans to replace Florence as the desired choice of TV executives and ad agencies this year.
The BBC will undoubtedly go over board and use them on every documentary segue way from now till Christmas.

Dominic Valvona.

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