[26 October 2009]
The first Fuck Buttons LP, last year’s Street Horrrsing, sprawled without actually doing anything. Empty gestures and energy directed towards no eventualities. Folk were disarmed by their readiness to balance the noise with big melodic statements, but it was done without finesse. Their live shows around the time were predictable in the way they dealt in such monochromatic shades as the album—we were either building and exploding, or just whispering. It is heartening that with their second, Tarot Sport, Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power seem to have found some semblance of intent and an appropriate outlet for that manic energy. They have discovered that there are infinite shades in between the extremes. You might describe it as ascending from Duplo to Lego.
This UK duo’s tendencies to employ noise over everything else as a base shock tactic now has affixed to it a compositional and structural soundness—the way the opening scrawl of “Surf Solar” indicates a monumental pay-off and refuses to let you have it is masterful, the equivalent of being denied a sneeze. Furthermore, the shimmer of the ballsily-titled “Space Mountain” is a more considered affair than we previously would have thought them capable. Simple melodic lines are carved out in guitar and synthesised drone, but they don’t take any real direction until we’ve worked for a reward. In fact, that direction comes from the slowly-developing rhythmic undercurrents rather than just getting louder and louder—the dynamics move even slower. Again, they deny any real cataclysmic pay-off. Fuck Buttons finally trust their audience enough to go with them when they perhaps should’ve done so from the very beginning.
It would now be easy to think that there simply aren’t any big pay-offs on the record. It’s not that they aren’t there, it’s that they’re not always that accessible. The reward comes in finding new tempi, in realising different sonic plains have skewed to meet each other between compositions, not the blusters of before. There are still flaws, namely some of the overt simplicities in melody—the concluding “Flight of the Feathered Serpent” in particular refusing to reach any kind of satisfying complexity. There’s nothing wrong with simplicity in melody, but when there is such potential for it to meet with the now-expert textural manipulations, it’s something of a frustration. The conclusion of the album itself is the most direct moment of the whole album—once the serpent has shed its melody for the first time and tumbled with only accelerating percussion to accompany it. The decision to bring the melody back in a fiercer incarnation was definitely the right thing to do, and makes sure the album’s conclusion at least is one that will last long in the memory.
All in all, it’s a confusing recording. Where they once might have been tempted to deliver melodic obviousness without the requisite textural innovations to make it interesting, Fuck Buttons have now become a more revised and soon-to-be revered prospect. With this encroaching acceptance of their craft, they’ve become far more confident and trusting of their listeners. There are, however, occasional stumbles that suggest that some lessons cannot be learned quickly, and that melody is an essential component of their sound that needs more attention. For now, though, this is much better.