These New Puritans piece together ‘Beat Pyramid;
Ryan Raffin | Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Beat Pyramid, the debut album from England’s These New Puritans starts off predictably, given its name, with a big stomping drum-sample. 20 seconds later, the jangly guitar line cuts in, and it seems like the British Isles have produced another hip post-punk band, probably one hyped into oblivion. Listen intently to this first song, the unusually titled “Numerology AKA Numbers”, and you can hear more than just Bloc Party version 2.0. In fact, These New Puritans are far from the normal crop of Gang of Four rip-offs, they are an entirely different breed. The group is nearly as avant-garde and experimental as post-punk can get.
The group relies heavily on drum samples, loops and other forms of electronic programming to form the backbone of their esoteric sound. Beats are central here, but not in the mainstream hip-hop sense of making the most watered down, accessible sound possible. No, These New Puritans are more focussed on using percussive effects and loops as a weapon, using them to beat you into submission. Everything else is secondary – vocals, guitar, bass and keyboard all serving to back up and complement the percussion. On “Infinity Ytinifni”, there is no guitar or bass at all, just keyboard and huge, echoing drums, with singer Jack Barnett’s half-sung vocals floating over the song. The nearest sounding contemporary to the band is the similarly beat-intensive Battles. There aren’t many post-punk outfits that sound like this or for that case, in all of music.
The band has pop chops as well, and they reveal them on the surprisingly catchy single “Elvis”. One line claims “what will happen next, we have no clues,” succinctly summing up what it’s like to listen to this album. Here, an ominous bassline leads into a verse with the paranoid exclamation that “we’re being watched by experts”. This then flows into a smoothly melodic chorus, with cryptic lyrics about God and waiting for something. It’s a wild song, where in less than three minutes, the group proves that eccentricity and accessibility are not mutually exclusive.
“MKK3” is a quiet, brooding track that updates Joy Division’s melancholy for today’s short attention span culture in less than two minutes. “Navigate-Colours” continues the Joy Division fixation before dissolving into looped vocals and beats that fade in and out. In fact, nearly all of the songs on Beat Pyramid offer something of interest, with its seeming tug of war battle between conventional and offbeat sound. You might not think that the idea of mixing late ’70s post-punk with modern day electronic programming could sustain a full length album, but These New Puritans pull it off surprisingly well. Perhaps that can be attributed to brevity, by not allowing anything to repeat for a long enough time to get boring. The twelve songs on the record, not counting the four sub-30 second interludes, play for a mere 35 minutes. For the non-mathematically inclined, that works out to around three minutes per song. Songs zip by, making their point and ending. It’s a direct method of song writing that serves the group well.
These New Puritans have put forward an impressive effort with their debut album, challenging the listener and pushing post-punk in new directions. Not content to merely rip off their forebears, they borrow from other genres, melding everything together into one unique sound. There are moments where the bands that influence them shine through, but these are only for brief seconds. Each song is distinct, but overall the album has a cohesive sound, easily identifiable as the work of one group. If you’re looking for something a little different than your normal fare, this would be a great place to start.