Even if Hidden didn’t work – and it mostly does – it ought to be celebrated for sheer bravery.
On this follow-up to 2008’s Beat Pyramid,
These New Puritans again build a framework of big thwonking hip hop beats. It’s
just that instead of overlaying them with stripped down rock songs, as they did
on the debut, they have added a whole post-modern orchestra of sounds –
strings, bassoons, vibraphone, flute and brass. It’s a surprising turn, perhaps
foreshadowed in the more flamboyant crevices of Beat Pyramid, but here wholly realized and stunning.
A good half the tracks don’t sound like rock at all. The
opening cut “Time Xone” lets bassoon and clarinets slowly overlap and build
together, a seated, orchestra-hall prelude to one of the oddest, most engaging
albums of the year. Later on, “Hologram,” splices smouldery jazz piano into a
plaintive bit of R&B-ish pop. “Canticle”, another interlude, revisits “Time
Xone”‘s themes, this time with a flute leading, and gorgeous closer “5” striates
polyrhythmic layers of marimba over one another, intricate twinkle dust
scattered over abstract flights of bassoon.
In between these instrumental pieces, These New Pyramids
lodge body bludgeoning, beat-driven cuts, much like the core of Beat Pyramid. “Attack Music” is arguably
the best and most straightforward of these, its boxy synth rhythm holding all
the embellishments – bits of strangled guitar, Russian opera choruses, flittery
syncopations of bassoon – in tense check. The sound here, and in other
rhythm-driven cuts like “We Want War” and “White Chords,” finds an uneasy
balance between lushness and minimalism, with baroque twists and arabesques
surrounded by blank walls of negative space. The drums are huge, partly because
they are, in fact, six-feet tall taiko drums, but also because they are set off
by silence. You jump when they come in.
The album works really well as a whole, despite extremely
diverse instrumentation and mood. Repeat listens reveal little elements of
post-classicism in the rock cuts, rock sounds in the orchestral intervals. It’s
subtle, but enough to connect these widely spaced dots and turn Hidden into a cohesive statement. Taking chances is laudable all by itself.
Taking chances and making them pay off like this? That’s impressive.
Standout Tracks: “Attack
Music” “We Want War” “5” JENNIFER