As you will have no doubt seen already from Rover’s live review of These New Puritans instore performance at Rough Trade East, Hidden is not an easily classifiable album. This is a good thing. Those of you who have read my pieces on The Brits and Tuggawar will know that generally I rail against the current mainstream homogenised pop factory approach to music and the whole idea of your appearance being more important than what you produce.
With Hidden, These New Puritans have produced a compelling, challenging and, above all, damn fine record. Rough Trade had it as their album of the month for January (which is how I heard of them and they came to be added to the list by the way) and I can understand why.
Before I go any further I just want to give a caveat to anyone yet to hear Hidden who then decides to go and get it based on what they read here. The first time I heard it my immediate reaction was quite simply ‘what the fuck is this?’ There is no other way of saying it I’m afraid. I genuinely had no idea what the hell I was listening to or why it seemed so, well, odd. Should you too feel this way when you hear it for the first time I say ‘persevere’. Listen again, more than once. Seriously.
The track that has thus far garnered most attention is the seven minute opus, We Want War. In his live review, Rover described it a ‘song that would perfectly accompany a dramatic film’ and he’s right. Except, he’s also wrong. The first time I heard We Want War I instantly imagined it as just that, the soundtrack to a big battle scene, starting with a montage of warriors getting tooled up and ready before cutting out to great sweeping shots of an immense battlefield. Then it became a video scene from a vast sprawling video game but that’s not right either. My point, very badly made, is that We Want War has a quality that will make it almost anything your imagination will allow. With the obvious exception of it being the soundtrack to an episode of In the Night Garden. Perhaps if Iggle Piggle were to snap and go on the rampage killing all the inhabitants, starting with Macka Packa and his OCD addled brain but not a normal episode, no chance.
To me, We Want War is balletic; it conjures imagery of dance, of a strong narrative, of a remorseful hero and his need for redemption from the one he loves. Give it a listen; see where your mind is taken away to.
So far this year I’ve reviewed Delphic and Chew Lips. Both high quality electronic based releases. Hidden too uses a lot of electronica but in a very, very different way. You’re not going to get the same euphoric high as when listening to Delphic or the beautiful haunting vocals of Chew Lips washing over you. No, from the very beginning, the two minute long Time Xone which is a very gentle horn piece, you know this is going to be unlike anything you’ve heard before. Time Xone slips surprisingly easily into the pounding drums of We Want War which in turn moves effortlessly into the dark yet catchy Three-Thousand. Just when you think you’re getting the measure of Hidden it then sweeps into Hologram which genuinely sounds like something Badly Drawn Boy might’ve done than back, back to the drums and the rhythmical assault that is Attack Music. You know what? It IS attack music! Again though, like We Want War, there is a somewhat orchestral feel to it, like We Want War it includes the use of a knife as a musical instrument (you don’t get that on the X-Factor!) but unlike We Want War, Attack Music is more directly accessible. Of all the tracks on Hidden, this is the one that is most likely to creep back into your skull four hours later without you realising, stealthily creeping towards then slitting the throat of Bad Romance before taking its place as that tune you just can’t get out of your head.
What follows are more drums, more horns, more woodwind, more electronic punctuation throughout and more intelligent, challenging tracks. For me, after seventh track Orion the album does seem to lose its way a little but it’s still going to be a long way ahead of much of what comes out this year. Hidden is a rich and varied album filled with dark melodies layered over a multitude of diverse vocal arrangements (some reminiscent of Mezzanine era Massive Attack, some even a little like Mike Skinner) and vast sprawling drum beats. Look out for it in the end of year lists.