These New Puritans

Hidden

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In 2008, the first album from These New Puritans appeared, presenting a band of young Brits who had clearly soaked up the lessons of brainy post-punk outfits like the Fall, Wire, et al., not only in terms of the Burroughs-esque, cut-and-paste approach to composition and the terse, angular riffs and rhythms, but in the tendency to approach an album like an art-school project, with an armful of theories behind each decision. Fortunately for all concerned, These New Puritans -- like all powerful musicians -- operate on a level that connects emotionally and viscerally before the cerebral side is even engaged, so the whole thing plays out in a non-pretentious way. That's how it is on their second album, Hidden, as well, but the band hasn't been standing still in between releases by any stretch of the imagination. Where the first album was full of blaring guitars and powerful drums -- however minimally arrayed and artfully deployed -- Hidden is a different beast entirely; in fact, it's tempting to say that it's barely even a "rock" album, except for the fact that no other descriptor seems to fit any better. In place of those Fall/Wire riffs of old, Hidden offers a greater emphasis on electronics; in fact, there seem to be scarcely any guitars at all. And where its predecessor hit you over the head and knocked you down with its ideas, Hidden -- true to its title -- prefers to sneak up on the listener. Some of the most striking features of the album are the brass and wind orchestrations. Three atmospheric, orchestral instrumentals subdivide Hidden -- one at the top, one at the middle, and one (also including Steve Reich-like percussion, wordless choral vocals, and a brief dash of spoken word) at the end. The wind players pop up at a couple of points in the "band" tunes, too, and it's a fair guess to say that co-producer/former Bark Psychosis frontman Graham Sutton has something to do with it all. Sutton's presence is also significant in that his old band's sui generis art rock is as close as you'll come to a precedent for what's happening here, aside from perhaps late-period Talk Talk. Besides the brass and winds, the synths and programmed beats that mix hip-hop, dubstep, and drum'n'bass styles are the dominant sonic presence. "Fire-Power," meanwhile, finds singer Jack Barnett spitting out a restless tumble of words over a beat that wouldn't sound out of place on an M.I.A. record, while "Hologram" takes things in yet another direction, using jazz piano in combination with winds and more of those Reich-like lines. Ultimately, Hidden is the sound of an ambitious young band as eager to use every tool at its disposal as it is to avoid studiously doing what's been done before.

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