These New Puritans emerge with a concept album from Britain’s Southend in Hidden, out on Domino Records. It deserves a few close listens but for the ADHD-afflicted,
it provides a monstrous soundtrack for a Halo shoot-em-up.
Crafting a multi-faceted approach to art rock, the Puritans conjure a grand battle as the album's installation piece. Stomping about the halls of mountain kings, electric thieving magpies and such, we hear Jack Barnett’s soft, instructional whispers entombed within programmed beats, wood winds, keyboard quarrels and the electro immediacy of an elaborate video game soundtrack.
One of the many elaborate intrigues on Hidden is the use of woodwinds. The opener “Time Xone” sets the somber-toned prelude set against a brewing storm and the furious journey ahead. “We Want War” then unleashes a hybrid fury of those horns and flutes, joined by a choral arrangement battered against dancehall digital keys and drum cues.
You can almost smell war as organic battles electro, often with the electronic side gaining ground, like on the hip-hop beat stepping “Three Thousand:” “Three thousand volts in our minds, that’s when you’re slicing through time.” The next track, “Hologram”, offers an existential, reflective lull, with Dntel sounding samples and beats sure to excite Ben Gibbard fans who still say their Postal Service prayers and religiously listen to “Give Up” before bed. Then the raging war revivies with “Attack Music”, “Fire–Power”, “Orion”, “Canticle”, the dramatic final aural battle “Drum Courts – Where Corals Lie”, the magical/mystical “White Chords”, to the lovely choral, flute arrangement on “5”, the album’s epilogue.
For those looking for the warm and beloved conventions of straight forward pop, you will have to wait ten tracks deep to wonder why Jack has “White Chords” in his body. Jack’s vision for the album resounds in a “Days of Future Passed”, in which he cloaks future pop with a symphonic sense of structure. Sometimes this comes in handy. Without those added pretensions, “Attack Music” and “Fire-Power” might sound like a dance-floor ready Tenor Saw or Michigan and Smiley jam.
Jack’s choice to bury his already low volume moans amid synthetic vocals and electronic war tom-toms only thickens the sludgy plot within Hidden. Listeners should prepare themselves for the stormy journey just as detractors should also challenge their own pop sense and search the possibilities of the Hidden worlds created by These New Puritans.