Okay, stop right there. Take everything you think you know about These New Puritans, throw it in the waste paper basket and let’s start again. One of my bigger gripes about modern day popular music is the lack of risk taking, the consensus seeming to be find your signature sound, spend the remainder of your career making paler versions of it and repeat ad nauseum.
Not everybody of course, but too many for my liking. You could write everything I know and like about These New Puritans on the side of a banana. I’d seen the good reviews of their previous work, then heard it and then promptly dismissed it as something I didn’t like or rate at all. Not so with this magnificent album. First up it’s produced by Graham Sutton and okay his production work hasn’t exactly reinvented the wheel of late (British Sea Power, Delays, etc) but he was in Bark Psychosis and so has a history of knowing how to make experimental, beautiful records. Parts of the record have been engineered by Phil Brown who was involved in the legendary last two Talk Talk records. This should give you an inkling of where this album is headed and how drastically These New Puritans have re-assembled their sound.
Firstly, it’s......quiet. Played on our office system it was all but drowned out by the office chatter but listened to on headphones it’s a completely different album. The songs are full of little nuances which are designed only to be heard by the most careful listener. The opening track in itself has a more interesting back story than most tracks released this year. It starts with gorgeous piano chords over which a field recording of a female singer is placed. Apparently the song being ‘This Guy’s In Love with You’ to which bizarrely the trustees of Bacharach and David’s material have demanded that the track be titled ‘This Guy’s in Love With You’ and be credited to Bacharach and David. Even being a massive fan of that songwriting team I would have never, ever guessed the song.
And it’s only part of the entire piece which incorporates muted brass and a climbing chord sequence that recalls another flagpost to the sound created here...Mark Hollis’s self titled solo album. ‘Fragment 2’ despite its title is one of the less fractured pieces here, beginning with a piano line that recalls Yann Tiersen’s collaboration with Shannon Wright, vocals are hushed, songs break down to string interludes before finally the song reaches a glorious crescendo with rising piano notes being joined by horns, vocal lines coming in and out of the mix, it reminds me a lot of Bed’s ‘The Wood Bunch’ off their ‘Spacebox’ album.
‘The Light in Your Name’ and ‘V’ are both dark and intimate, recalling David Sylvian, the latter track breaking out gorgeously into a dissonant piano melody to which electronics and drums are added and clever vocals overlaid over the top. It’s full of glorious stop starts, shifts in tempo yet the heart of it is a fractured melody that is hard to resist. If you think it’s all getting a bit dark and navel gazing something like ‘Organ Eternal’ comes along and although completely dissimilar in terms of sound and arrangements fulfills the exact same role as ‘New Grass’ did on ‘Laughing Stock’, providing a warm meloding counterpart to the dissonance. Organs and vibraphone collide over strings to create something thats one part Philip Glass, one part The Blue Nile.
‘Dream’ changes tack again, I’m not wholly sold on the broken English female vocal that opens it but the string drones and warm double bass that join it are a delight. The closing title track is borderline preposterous with banks of choral voices and droned strings, conversely not maybe as effective as the hushed tones that have come before but so different from anything else out and leaves you waiting....waiting for a melody to come through the murk which eventually around the six minute mark it does, slightly Sigur Ros in execution and the slight disappointment I feel with the last couple of tracks just go to emphasise the high water marks that are reached earlier in the record.
A splendidly complex and beautiful album. These New Puritans have taken the signature sound of the likes of Talk Talk and run with it to the hilt. In turn creating their own English masterpiece.