Words by Anthony Thomas – Image by James Looker
If you had never listened to These New Puritans’ (TNP) before and you played tracks from their first EP, Now Pluvial, back-to-back with their latest single, Fragment Two, you would be forgiven for mistaking the music as originating from two different artists. Emerging from the depths of London back in 2006 the four-piece, led by Jack Barnett, quickly made a name for themselves as an post-art-rock group. Associations with Hedi Slimane, Dior and Matthew Stone no doubt had a lot to do with that tag sticking over the years.
Despite its short run, Now Pluvial was meet with praise and secured the band a deal with Angular Recording Co. and Domino Records to release their 2008 debut album respectively throughout the UK and US. With an eclectic sound and wide array of influences cited, Beat Pyramid, proved difficult to define from the outset. Driven by a musical vision rarely seen in the wasteland of what Barnett describes as “cut-and-paste musicians”, 2010 bore the band’s sophomore album, Hidden. If listeners and critics struggled to define TNP until now, then they would soon find the difficulty of pigeonholing this offering had multiplied ten-fold.
It was loud, some might say abrasive, yet with layers of subtleties woven throughout. This was no mistake. Barnett took it upon himself to learn the art of classical composition to fully integrate the components he desired. His work earned Hidden the title of NME’s 2010 album of the year, no mere feat by any measure. Not only was the band now on the agenda, soon to were their recording techniques. This, undoubtedly, was met with quiet amusement from within the TNP camp initially but perhaps more closely resembled borderline frustration for Barnett by the end of the press campaign.
Now, minus a member, TNP are back with their third-full length offering, Field Of Reeds. Unsurprisingly, it’s unlike any of their previous records. Barnett tells me, “I’m not very good at giving the audience what they want, it’s not my forte.” It would be misleading to describe Field Of Reeds as a complete change, I ask Barnett if it’s more a change of emphasis rather than something completely new. “I don’t see it as a massive change, I’m always surprised when people say that. It’s a bit like if you saw a photo of yourself a couple of years ago, there going to be some big changes but they’re going to be a lot more organic and natural.”
Barnett says the album was void of conceptualisation. “There was no grand plan. It was a complete return to pure song writing. When I was younger, I would write songs about how I felt and it feels like I returned to that.” No grand plan, but you recorded a hawk? I ask jokingly but I think he missed the humour. “Everyone loves the hawk, don’t they? I think people have the impression we sat down and thought of the wackiest sounds we could come up with but it didn’t really happen that. When I was writing the song, in the same way that it becomes obvious to me that a piano should play a certain part, it became obvious to me on that song that the hawk should play the sound I wanted. Then it’s always the problem of sitting down and saying, “how the hell do we go about recording this?”
Whether that makes sense to anyone but Barnett is debatable. What isn’t, is that whatever logic Barnett chooses to apply to constructing his music needs no tampering. Expansive, soothing and textural. Field Of Reeds is all these things. It may be a bitter pill for those clinging on for Hidden #2 to swallow but when I hang up the phone I’m left with the distinct feeling that Barnett didn’t intend, nor cares, for those people to successful digest this new material. A welcome sentiment for those of us hanging out for an Australian tour. When I ask if that will be anytime soon, Barnett states simply, “Next year.”