"Elvis" is what tipped me off to These New Puritans, and it was indeed a strike to the head. Though at first glance they seemed like just another young British post-punk doppelganger, it was clear after just one spin of the single that they were something else. And sure, comparisons to Gang of Four and The Fall abounded, but their rhythm centric flow, their repetitious shouted paranoid lyrics - and lines like "If there is a god, then please take me up!" - not to mention their general art school yet street culture aesthetic put them above the rest. Right?
Not so much. We waited with anticipation as their first album 'Beat Pyramid' dropped on Domino - the record label that was home to scene-defining heavyweights Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys - and our excitement was proven to be more or less misplaced. Instead of being brilliant in its repeated lines and beats we found merely empty chanting. Instead of the artistic paranoia we had lyrics like "she's into numerology, she's into astrology, she's into phenomenology" and the yawn inducing "what's your favorite number, what does it mean?" over and over again. It was too easy to see that they were trying to be intellectual and mystical and eerily ambiguous, but they just came off as bull shit. Like that girl who's always trying to figure out people based on their sign, or wants to tell you about some native american view on the truth behind dreams from a book she skimmed through.
Looking at the album, one brilliant song, a few good songs, filled out with sort of interesting BS, we could only ask if this band was serious, or if they were fucking kidding us. That was in 2008.
In December of the next year the music video for "We Want War" arrived, the first single of These New Puritans second effort, and all I could think was 'are you fucking kidding me'. or perhaps 'what just happened here?' because truly this was unlike anything we could possibly expect. Between its desperate electronic circles and battle drums, not to mention some under mixed lyrics that were truly and brilliantly cryptic and paranoid, it was hard to deny that this band was indeed serious. Perhaps the most serious band alive in a time filled with irony and detachment and tung-in-cheek music.
Because I don't live in the band's country of origin, I had a long three month wait until I could hear the rest of the album. It did not disappoint, in fact quite the opposite could be said of it. While sitting around listening to it a friend of mind jokingly snuck up and snatched my cd player away from me, then walked away. I didn't bother chasing him. He returned five minutes later with shocked and incredulous look on his face. Wide eyed, he asked me what this music was. That's basically the feeling it imparts. It is truly hard to believe.
The mood of the album shifts back and forth from paranoid to passionate, from war music to songs of cerebral dissonance, from attacking the outside world to barring the windows and fighting to keep the world from attacking you. The instruments are switched up on us as well. Deviating from the post-punk standard of guitar, key, and heavy amounts of drums - with a bit of samplers and loops throne in, this album instead favors strong choruses of brass and woodwind above a modified gunshot beat and electronics. But don't be mistaken, this is not a hybrid with classical music, the instruments here are reworked and repurposed, sounding nothing like their traditional timbre. There is very little guitar.
And so what we're left with is a long, exhausting, powerful, painful length of sound, fit for violence or for sadness. Something transparent and accessible, but also like almost nothing you've ever herd before. And something finally delivering on the promise of Elvis. Fuck yes.
the world might disappear