Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

These New Puritans – Barbican Centre, London 17/04/14

23 April 2014, 15:00 | Written by Joe Daniels

These New Puritans are a rare breed. Having initially installed themselves as art-rock agitators with Beat Pyramid, replete with catchy choruses (“Elvis”) and irksome, pompous track titles (“Numerology AKA Numbers”), they have since carved themselves into craftsmen of two critically-lauded records, and as residents in one of the UK’s premier art spaces.

Where bandleader Jack Barnett once sang in a demeanor whiney and aggressive, now his vocal contributions are minimal and affecting. Their second album, Hidden, had enough praise heaped on it that it you’d think it was a Karlheinz Stockhausen composition, and it certainly took some cues from the obfuscationist. It was a percussive, violent album toying with ideas of industrialization and its reconciliation with nature.

Their latest album, 2013’s Field of Reeds, boasted all the confidence of Hidden, but was a much more restrained and augustly affair. The pyrotechnics were ditched, and in their place existed a sparse, bucolic sound where silence and woodwind work in tandem. The addition of Portuguese faro singer Elisa Rodrigues added a deft touch of serenity to proceedings, as well as a technical singing talent that, bless ‘im, Barnett lacks.

Tonight then, is about recreating such an album live.

This isn’t the first time TNP have stopped by the Barbican, a venue more often associated with art exhibitions and subtitled cinema. Indeed the victory lap of Hidden took in this exact auditorium, and utilized the same format of playing the record track for track, with choir and orchestra on hand to make sure nothing is lost in the transition from record to live.

As with last time round, the thrill to be had here is not that of seeing a band at the height of their artistic powers peddle their much-vauntable wares, but instead experiencing first-hand how eyebrow-raising and well-conceived their music is. Songs like “Fragment Two” and “V (Island Song)” are both so intriguingly accessible and yet oblique that played here by 30-odd classically-trained musicians, you forget that they appeared on various indie zines’ top tracks of 2013 lists.

“Organ Eternal” is mesmerizing tonight, which sees the orchestra’s percussionist utilizing xylophone to such hypnotic effect you can feel Mike Oldfield burst into some tubular rage all the way from this concrete enclave of an arts complex. “The Light In Your Name” is another gem live, where the drums can be felt as well as heard.

The downside of using this format for this album is that when the original record meanders into itself a little, so does the performance. This wouldn’t be a problem if you were at home listening through a soundsystem, but in truth, when you’re in a darkened concert hall, it’s a touch dull and a niggling sense of pretentiousness creeps in. It’s the sort of niggle that was absent last time they played here, given the abundance of walloping drums on their previous album. Obviously anyone attending a TNP gig should expect some navel-gazing alongside a good measure of back patting too, but tonight very occasionally drags; “Nothing Else” being the main offender.

The encore restores the attack that the second side of the LP lacks, taking in two bombastic tracks from their noisy second album. “Three-Thousand” is a rhythmic thwack to the solar-plexus that gets heads nodding and a happy few on their feet dancing (which is downright anarchic given how anodyne things had just been). “We Want War” exists to be performed in this sort of setting, and it rises to the moment. Played last, and super-charged with Rodrigues’ hauntingly beautiful timbre, the evening goes out with a voluminous, celebratory bang that affirms These New Puritans as true rare breeds; one of just a few with the verve and flair to make music that is challenging, unhinged and almost formless.

Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next