Fuck Buttons - Slow Focus

6/10

Although second album Tarot Sport was now released three years ago, it certainly doesn’t seem like Fuck Buttons have been out of our lives between then and now. The remarkable, wonderful appearance of two of their tracks (‘Surf Solar’ and ‘Olympians’) at the terrific London Olympics opening ceremony last year (THANK YOU Uncle Danny Boyle) presumably brought their powerful and euphoric sounds to a much wider audience than they’ll previously have experienced, and was, for those “in the know” possibly the alt.icing on the surprisingly delicious cake that was last summer.

This return, then, was obviously always going to be accompanied by heightened expectations. It’s just that these expectations, or at least those of this reviewer, don’t seem to have been met. The first one or two play-throughs of Slow Focus feel much akin to how the first one or two play-throughs of Street Horrrsing and Tarot Sport felt. The same sensory overload, the blasts of noise juxtaposed with shifting dynamics, the sense that eventually elements would emerge, glistening and shimmering from their beds of sound that would make sense of everything. But then, well, those elements just don’t seem to arrive.

So opener ‘Brainfreeze’, its pounding drums obliquely recalling the hoardes of Olympic percussionists at that ceremony, layers its rhythmic aggression with synths that alternately channel the shriek of seagulls and the wail of sirens. “Terrific”, you think, and sit back waiting to see where the track will take you. A dusting of the sparkly shimmering sounds aside, though, the result would appear to be simply “round in circles”.

These tracks are long. This should, one feels, allow the patterns to evolve, to build and develop, but ‘Stalker’, too – although of more than 10 minutes’ running time –  seems to just present the listener with one basic template and then repeat it, almost to the point of tedium. ‘The Red Wing’ doesn’t do very much either, but has ebullient, plosive synths, a bouncy gait and an entertaining “wah wah wah” detail in its favour. With all of the above however, along with the aggressive ‘Sentients’ with its pissed-off synthesisers and heavily vocodered “aye-aye”s, it feels like the essence of a shorter, pithier track has been submerged and diluted by its elongation.

The album’s finest moments – and there undeniably are some, just less perhaps than I had hoped for – include the more melodic moments of ‘Prince’s Prize’, much of which sounds like a bonkers sped-up version of some kind of baroque harpsichord tune but with added arcade game laser-fire noises. The closer, ‘Hidden XS’ combines a sweet cascade of descending notes with a sexy slow-dance beat and some more uplifting top line melody. It also has one of those wonderful Fuck Buttons moments where they suddenly strip everything back half way through a track, removing the layers that have gradually been built and setting what has gone before into sharp relief. Here, finally, is some of the ebb and flow, some of the emotion that’s been lacking on the album up to this point. What a shame that it comes so close to Slow Focus’ end.