While Field of Reeds may indulge in the wilfully obscure, there is no doubt it cements These New Puritans as one of Britain’s finest exponents of forward-thinking rock music.
Bursting onto the British indie scene with the awkwardly angular hit ‘Elvis’, London-based trio These New Puritans released two LPs of wildly disparate sonic territories – debut Beat Pyramid followed by critically acclaimed sophomore album Hidden in 2010. Showcasing acute avant-garde leanings (think Benjamin Britten, intricate clarinet and bassoon sections, and Japanese Taiko drums), the record’s esoteric experimentation revealed the group’s strident determination to push their musical horizons.
On Field of Reeds, These New Puritans take a meditative step back from the sophomore record’s orchestrated, ferocious chaos, stripping away the epic ensembles and propulsive percussion in favour of a more contemplative intimacy. Still retaining the previous record’s experimental flavour, opener ‘This Guy’s In Love With You’ eases us into serene pastures, with warped female vocals seeping into a jazzy ambience. The record abounds in juxtaposed contradictions creating an impenetrability that may frustrate some listeners, but on ‘Fragment Two’, the intricate interplay between festive, childlike pianos, Jack Barnett’s poignant, searching vocals and evocative imagery (“Crushed glass by the train line / there is something there”), and the sonorous bassoon makes for illuminating listening.
‘Organ Eternal’ is one of the few tracks to stick to traditional ‘rock’ structures, dominated by a looped organ melody, while the album’s mystical atmosphere is bolstered by ‘mood’ tracks like ‘Dream’ with Portuguese Fado singer Elisa Rodrigues adding winsome vocals to a haunting backdrop of brass and light xylophone flourishes. The title-track and closer recalls Radiohead’s ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’, generating a plangent ambience with an omnipresent chamber organ, nonsensical looped vocals and peripatetic splurges of rousing strings and frenetic keyboards. A grand yet utterly self-contained work, it signals the trio’s success in crafting an aural landscape of their own.
BY LARRY LAI
Field of Reeds is out now through Infectious.