Even on their debut, These New Puritans had an impressive sound that seemed too complex to be performed by four people. The indie sound armed with vast, eclectic instrumentation made 2008's Beat Pyramid a particularly promising debut, but it was hardly expected that they would make such a leap forward. Their sophomore effort, Hidden, recalls the progression Silverchair made from a more guitar based rock band to a more low key, experimental one, except instead of over the course of three albums, it happened with one. The guitar fueled moments of Pyramid are gone here, with brass, woodwinds, and piano taking the forefront. Despite this radical change, These New Puritans still sound like themselves, their trademark dark melodies still in tact. Hidden shows These New Puritans as somehow both far more epic and far less pretentious than even the last few Muse records.
Lead songwriter and vocalist Jack Barnett and co. juxtapose organic and electronic sounds so well all across Hidden that you hardly even notice the first time you hear it. The atmosphere is looming and seductive, but is never overwhelming, much like The XX's self titled debut last year. Unlike it, however, Hidden seems to have the undercurrent of a noir film score, which is divided into songs that are re-cut and formatted into a more rock-friendly structure. Songs like We Want War, which makes seven minutes fly by way too quickly, displays this all too well, with cleverly placed breaks and random sound effects, and makes the song itself feel as if it's barely keeping afloat in the massive score.
One of the great things about Hidden is that with the wide array of instruments used, there are so many moments where you can't quite put your finger on what instrument you're hearing. "Is that.. a bassoon? A harpischord? ....a triangle?" George Barnett's percussion in particular is remarkable, on Attack Music he's keeping a beat while clattering on whatever the hell he wants, as warped synths, a choir, and a sharpening blade (one of the random sound effects mentioned earlier, a lot of them repeat themselves throughout the album) lead the bizarrely followable carnival-like melody. His clever drumming also backs the choir as they take the lead in Orion's multiple sinister hooks.
Sometimes the business in the music almost resembles a sound collage; Both Fire-Power and Drum Courts - Where Corals Lie's peaks boast somehow melodic cacophonies with everything hitting its stride at once, before each element falls away one by one, and all that's left is a fading single sound before the next kicks in. The brief instrumentals, Canticle, and opener Time Xone, are pure score and serve as a breather (or in Time Xone's case, the proverbial calm before the storm) in the midst of These New Puritan's unique brand of intensity.
Hidden is a deep, atmospheric album that has quite a lot to reveal over repeated listens. It's also quick and with a good enough flow to encourage repeated listening, making the already fascinatingly sharp instrumentation even more inviting for analysis. These New Puritans have taken chamber pop to the next level, much like Neutral Milk Hotel and the Arcade Fire did before them. All in all, it's an incredibly impressive and original effort that deserves all the praise it gets.
Yes, even the "first masterpiece of the 2010s" that have been spreading like wildfire this month.