these-new-puritans-album-field-of-reeds

Two years after its release, the neglect shown towards These New Puritans’ second album, ‘Hidden’, is still something of a mystery. It marked the moment that the Southend-based “company” shook off all neat comparisons, particularly to The Fall, as they puréed French Horns with collapsing skulls, dancehall with dubstep, minimalism with gothic orchestration and post-rock with Steve Reich. So grandiose and full of unfriendly ideas, it was never going to outsell Mumford & Sons that year, but in 2010 the critical hubbub around a record so inventive was soon muted, too. It left project leader Jack Barnett promising that the next TNP album would be a pop record. It’s not.

‘Field of Reeds’ is These New Puritans’ least commercial record to date, taking ‘Hiddens’’s boisterous fascination with DIY orchestrations to a place more serene yet ominous. Jack’s twin brother George is once again along for the ride, original member Tom Hein too, and the newly appointed singer Elisa Rodrigues, but Jack hasn’t written with them – ‘Field of Reeds’ is as much a collaboration between Barnett and composers Hans Ek, Phillip Sheppard, and Michel van der Aa as it is a band record. It’s particularly tricky to work out what brother George has contributed, now the drummer of a group that has largely done away with any kind of percussive drive whatsoever.

Drums, of course, were always key to These New Puritans’ sound, but they feature fleetingly and just twice here, comfortingly familiar and syncopated on ‘V (Island Song)’ and eventually on ‘The Light In Your Name’, played double-time as George makes the most of his studio time. Jack is more keen to embrace slow-moving soundscapes and choirs (‘Spiral’), dead space and minimal piano (‘This Guy’s In Love With You’), an overall sense of apprehension found in European independent cinema and what is essentially These New Puritan’s weakest element – his singing voice. Little of this is surprising, as Barnett has never wanted to make it easy for anyone to love his band – the hooks often came from the drums, so the drums have gone; his deadened sing-speak has been largely criticised, to it’s a recurring theme. Yet it’s when Jack sings that ‘Field of Reeds’ feels most contemporary and less like a film score. It’s a slow, slow listen, far subtler than ‘Hidden’, yet no less ambitious and no more concerned with what anyone might make of it.

It won’t even outsell Mumford & Sons’ singles these days, but the music of These New Puritans has always been heading this way – to concert halls and art galleries, where neo-classical compositions like these can be considered oddly beautiful and strangely alluring.