PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


These New Puritans: Field of Reeds

From neo post-punk upstarts to full-blown avant garde rockers, These New Puritans have come a long way in three albums' time.

These New Puritans

Field of Reeds

Label: PIAS
US Release Date: 2013-11-05
UK Release Date: 2013-06-10

When Beat Pyramid came out way back in 2008, its young authors were clear students of the neo post-punk indie school, combining the arty, scruffy jaggedness of Wire and the Fall with the jittery energy of the Arctic Monkeys. What distinguished These New Puritans from others indebted to the same reference points was that their music felt more inspired by the sensibilities espoused by the original post-punk vanguard (drawing influence from non-rock sources and shedding as many conventions of rock tradition as possible) than yet another exercise filtering Cure or Gang of Four motifs through indie rock mechanisms. The nurturing of this experimentally-minded approach has served the band in good stead -- having developed drastically with their second album Hidden (where among other evolutionary strides, frontman Jack Barnett taught himself how to write musical notation in order to better realize the arrangements he heard in his head), the Puritans have since blossomed into full on avant art-rockers, in the process creating a daring, difficult third album that -- depending on who you talk to -- may be the delivery of the creative promise the group has long hinted at.

Speaking of art rock, These New Puritans evidence some serious prog damage on their latest LP. This makes a degree of sense if one is aware that the band’s spiritual ancestors were commonly lapsed or closet prog heads invigorated by punk’s Year Zero attitude. Where once on Beat Pyramid compositions were at times maddeningly short (under one-minute runtimes were common), Field of Reeds is vaguely structured as three movements, and its individual components can run to “Stairway to Heaven” lengths. The influence of the fiddly-diddly art school ‘70s isn’t limited to structure, as the Krautrock-y synth part that underpins “Organ Eternal” and the overtly proggy keyboard figure that interjects in the middle of the title cut illustrate. Avant garde and modern composition sensibilities are also reflected, such as with how percussion is used more for garnish than time-keeping, instead letting rumbling low tones (sometimes instrumentation, other times courtesy of guest vocalist Adrian Peacock’s cavernous bass voice) assume the rhythmic function in most instances. The end product is disembodied and vaguely ominous music, its power derived more from the subconscious sensations it suggesss rather than the force it is applied with.

Field of Reeds introduces itself quite commendably with the first of its three segments, and it is in that section where the album makes its most convincing case for its artistic success. Opener “This Guy’s in Love With You” introduces listeners to new member Elisa Rodrigues, whose ghostly, effects-treated voice lures them deeper and deeper into the album’s sepulchral soundscapes. That song gives way to “Fragment Two”, the closest thing to a potential “hit” on the record. Kept to a comparatively reserved four and a half minutes, it’s characterized by weighty piano keys that lock in with a steady, persistent kick drum pulse that work in tandem with Barnett’s pained mewling (shades of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke) to build up anticipation that, ingeniously, slowly dissipates by song’s end instead of resolving via a conventional form of release.

It is partway through the third track “The Light in Your Name” where the LP hits its first snag, for when Jack’s twin brother George finally shows up to lay down an otherwise thrilling breakbeat, it is a jarring interjection that ill suits the carefully measured vibe that has been maintained until that point. It turns out making disparate sections link together is still an area where These New Puritans can find room for improvement. Try as they might on the title track and the aforementioned “The Light in Your Name” to shift on a dime like the prog heroes of ancient yore, the Puritans can’t quite pull it off, for they have crafted a record whose natural inclination is to glide along, and any sort of swift direction change becomes a distraction.

At its heart, Field of Reeds is really a mood record, and the way it is crafted limits its horizon and ultimately its ability to be truly visionary. Anything that suits the suggestive atmospherics on display -- the range of voices, the electronics, the mournful sax that is the centerpiece of ”Nothing Else” -- fits in thematically, no matter how un-rockist. Yet letting George Barnett pick up his drumsticks and show off his chops, or playing notes that are closer to conventional melodies than aural texture? In the realm that the group summons up for Field of Reeds, these actions threaten to break a very mesmerizing spell.

Opinion on whether Field of Reeds is a brave leap forward or a frustrating trip up the groups’ collective backside has been split, a dilemma concisely summed up by the NME headline “Field of Reeds: Amazing or Shit?” It’s true that the record that can be hard to wrap one’s head around with only a few plays. Even after listening to it several times and letting its amorphous textures wash over me repeatedly, I find myself continually facilitating between entranced esteem and the need to niggle over the ways in which the album doesn’t quite manage to hit the mark. For good or ill, Field of Reeds is a record that continues to hint at promise for a still-young band -- no, it is not an outright masterpiece, but there’s enough to commend it that suggests that These New Puritans might not be far off.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.