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These New Puritans

A strange chamber-rock outfit that have so far embodied the angular sound of early GANG OF FOUR and WIRE, plus the solemn electro-beats of TORTOISE and SIGUR ROS, the London-based quartet from Southend-on-Sea (a trio as of 2012), THESE NEW PURITANS have risen to the top of the critically-lauded heap of indie groups, but without the deserved sales to match.
Formed in 2006 by singer/songwriter/guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Jack Barnett and his twin brother George (drums & loops), with Thomas Hein (bass & sampler) and Sophie Sleigh-Johnson (keyboards), three of the group’s earliest compositions, `Elvis’, `C.16th’ and `En Papier’, arrived by way of that year’s glorious GANG OF FOUR-ish EP, `Now Pluvial’. Drawing critical endorsement from the NME, three further sides (`Navigate, Navigate’, and the double-A `Numbers’ and `Colours’) previewed their rather sharp and angular debut set, BEAT PYRAMID (2008) {*8}. Much of it, guitar, drum and bass-driven, with loops and samples to die for, the numerical language of love came into the equation on many downbeat dirges, while colours and the art of philosophy came into question via 16th century astrologer John Dee.
Co-produced by BARK PSYCHOSIS’ Graeme Sutton, and weighing-in with a raft of additional studio musicians, TNP seemed to have taken a leaf from the works of William S. Burroughs as inspiration on sophomore set, HIDDEN (2010) {*8}. Darker and dramatically detached in places, and almost swapping Go4 for stop-start minimalist Steve Reich, jazz beats and sonic sojourns collide on the seismic `We Want War’ (very PiL), the JOHN BARRY-esque `Three Thousand’, the WYATT-ish `Hologram’ and the almost FAD GADGET-cloned `Attack Music’.
Trimmed to a trio when Sophie decided she’d had enough, THESE NEW PURITANS also swapped labels from Angular and Domino Records to Infectious. A decidedly different proposition from their unintentional avant-indie imitations a la their previous sets, album three FIELD OF REEDS (2013) {*9} ploughed the right amount of ambience from the atmospheric cosmos. Apart from running into a bit of bovver through emulating a muffled version of BACHARACH & DAVID’s `This Guy’s In Love With You’ (originally titled `The Way I Do’), Jack and Co came across as RADIOHEAD meeting “Dancer In The Dark” on track 2, `Fragment Two’. Re-imagining DAVID SYLVIAN sharing a studio with THOM YORKE, `The Light In Your Name’ possessed gothic and prog overtones, while the climactic 9-minute `V (Island Song)’ becomes the cosmic couthie halfway through. Caught between the corridors of a horror movie set and a visit to the coven from hell, `Spiral’ will send chills down one’s spine, while on the other hand follow-on piece `Organ Eternal’ is bright, bouncy and almost TORTOISE-like and RADIOHEAD-esque in its diversity. As the album title suggests, reeds are essential to the very core of every track, none more so than the MILES DAVIS-esque `Nothing Else’, while Sophie’s part-time female replacement, Elisa Rodrigues (from Portugal) delicately delights on `Dream’, as the doom-laden title track closes a record that sets the template for others to follow in their wake.
To commemorate a glorious night at London’s prestigious Barbican Centre that April (featuring the Heritage Orchestra and guest vocalist Synergy), EXPANDED – LIVE AT THE BARBICAN (2014) {*8} was almost trampled underfoot by the barrage of October releases; in hindsight maybe it was just too soon for such self-indulgence, however worthy of merit. One can certainly hear remnants of RON GEESIN, DAVID BEDFORD and ROBERT WYATT, to mention but a triumvirate of 70s stars.
Losing ground in a commercial sense, the absent-without-leave THESE NEW PURITANS left it a little late in the day for album four, INSIDE THE ROSE (2019) {*8}. The reason why chamber-synth act TNP kept stumm for six years was probably down to the departure, in 2016, of Thomas Hein. The remaining Barnett brothers duly roped in CURRENT 93’s otherworldly David Tibet and the aforementioned jazz singer Elisa Rodrigues, whilst there was even room on board for the outgoing Hein and EU classical collective, Stargaze. A shame then, that the likes of dream-pop dramas such as the thematic `Where The Trees Are On Fire’, `Infinity Vibraphones’, `Anti-Gravity’, the single `Into The Fire’ and the serene title track (think TALK TALK or The BLUE NILE) might be lost on the modern-day text-thumbers looking for chip-paper pop.
Irritatingly unconventional or just a duo meticulous to the nth degree in order to extract every particle from their recent recordings, the self-evident THE CUT (2016-2019) (2020) {*7}, for all intents and purposes, was an outtakes remix album. Despite any misgivings, TNP excelled for the most part; opener `The Mirage’ seeing Barnett trade vocals with a full children’s choir, while a Scinitti re-hash of `Beyond Black Suns’ and haunting fresh piece, `If I Were You (Love At The End Of The Human Age), were propped up by Elisa Rodrigues. And among snippets shimmering like a meeting of VANGELIS’s `Blade Runner’ and a thousand unknown film scores, `Sphinx In Pieces’ harked back to the ghostly days of JAPAN.
© MC Strong Dec2013-Apr2020

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