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Hidden’ no more: These New Puritans Are Back on the Punk Scene

Ryan Raffin | Thursday, April 8, 2010

This is a truly weird album. This isn’t to say that the British post-punk quartet known as These New Puritans were ever a by-the-numbers band, but “Hidden,” their sophomore full-length is something else.

Though their prior album was driven mostly by the rhythm section with little emphasis on guitars, “Hidden” takes that initiative to a whole new level. Guitars are almost entirely absent and a wide swath of new instrumentation is introduced in their place. A bassoon is heard on far more than one song, and even more surprisingly, it doesn’t sound out of place. The closest comparison in terms of stylistic departure, if not musical content, is Radiohead’s “Kid A.” Like that classic, “Hidden” is the work of a band utterly unconcerned with commercial success and it too succeeds all the more because of it.

From woodwind sections to samples of swords being drawn to Castlevania-esque keyboards, the group seems to have turned away no idea in the composition of this album, no matter how far out there. Make no mistake, this is an album that was composed — there is far too much going on at any one moment to say “Hidden” was simply performed, as most are.

Opening track “Time Xone” is instrumental, consisting entirely of horns being played at a funereal tempo. It serves as a brief introduction to the album, lulling the listener until the song fades out and the first single “We Want War” kicks in. And does it ever kick. Over seven minutes in length, it features a militaristic drumbeat, keyboards and frontman Jack Barnett’s cryptic, insistent singing. What is so incredible about the song is that it doesn’t feel as long as it is, which is probably the best compliment a song can get.

The first two songs are indicative of what is to come on the rest of the album, which seems to be split between the breathy, horn heavy tracks and the rhythmic, stomping ones. Falling into the latter category is the excellent “Attack Music,” featuring a choir and samples of breaking glass over a chanted refrain. Again, anything goes on “Hidden.”

The rampant experimentation might be a turnoff for some listeners, which is understandable. These New Puritans almost undoubtedly intended it to be a challenging listen. There are points where the album seems almost too scattered in its approach — but not quite. The stylistic diversity rarely hurts the album if it were focused on a single aspect, like sampling, the album would be boring beyond belief.

Still, the songs on “Hidden” aren’t uniformly bizarre. “Fire-Power” recalls the relatively straightforward post-punk of “En Papier” off their debut album and is one of the only songs where guitar is present. The opening verse of “Orion” even approaches catchiness, with frontman Jack Barnett crooning over hits from a bass drum. “White Chords” could be a Joy Division B-side. Throughout the 11 songs, the beats frequently recall those heard in modern hip-hop, although certainly not in a context found anywhere near the top 40.
These New Puritans’ willingness and ability to combine vastly disparate influences into an organic whole is ultimately their biggest strength.

“Hidden” is a relentlessly ambitious album that startles with every musical left turn. Is it an easy listen? By no means. Is rewarding and original? Absolutely. After a few listens to the whole album it becomes easier to pick out the subtleties of each individual track. Once everything has sunk in, it’s not difficult to see how truly excellent “Hidden” is. After hearing this album, one can conclude that the band’s name is almost certainly a joke, because nothing about this music is puritanical.

Label: Angular/Domino
Best Tracks: “Time Xone,” “Fire Power,” “Orion”

Contact Ryan Raffin at rraffin@nd.edu