Music

These New Puritans: Beat Pyramid

Forward-looking British upstarts' debut is a perplexing but rewarding affair, all intellectual crypticism and swaggering, brash execution.


These New Puritans

Beat Pyramid

Label: Angular
US Release Date: 2008-03-18
UK Release Date: 2008-01-28
Amazon
iTunes

For the critic, Beat Pyramid is a disconcerting album. It's not that its sonic landscapes are radically outlandish or dauntingly expansive, though they certainly are idiosyncratic; no, it's Jack Barnett's speckled, hyper-intellectual lyrical palette that makes it intimidating. With references ranging from numerology to pre-Socratic philosophy to social surveillance, often digressing widely within a single song, it's hard not to look for some connecting strand of reasoning, some thematic skewer fixing together the record's apparent incongruities. Circularity, repetition, numerology, shape: all these come and go, and the initial impression is one of enigma and perplexity.

Maybe it's paranoia, but you feel as though These New Puritans know the problem they pose. Unintentional or otherwise, "Swords of Truth"'s (assumedly faux-)pretentious repartee, "this music's symbolic/This music is weightless", so perfectly describes the critical predicament that it's almost like a goading challenge. "You'll be slashing at the air, describing nothing" deadpans Barnett, and so it seems, trying to collect Beat Pyramid's myriad elements into something coherent, trying to pin down and put into words its overall philosophy, should be there be anything so grand at work here.

But regardless of any lofty thematic ambitions (and certainly interviews with the band have been steeped in pretension), the true current of continuity running through Beat Pyramid is musical, rather than lyrical, and for all the intrigue of the latter sphere, it is the former, too, that makes the record such a good one. A little less abrasive, a little less peculiar, and These New Puritans might have suffered the misfortune of the largely media-constructed new-rave 'scene'. And it's true, there are parallels in the chorus of opener and single "Numerology aka. Numbers" and those of Mercury Music Award winners Klaxons, but the comparison holds weight only fleetingly.

For while the latter ensemble, for all their posturing about supposedly broken ground, are unashamedly pop, These New Puritans expand their largely guitar-driven songs with spacey, hip-hop derived breaks and appear also to appreciate the value of minimalism. "Numerology"'s verse, for instance, limits itself to faltering staccato stabs of guitar, orchestrated by George Barnett's gloriously commandeering stop-start drum beat and accompanied by repetitions of his twin brother's drolly insistent inquisition, "What’s your favourite number?/What does it mean?" "Infinity Ytinifni", meanwhile, buries J. Barnett's persistent chant of "Infinity's not as fast as me" in swells of miasmic noise, expanding exponentionally, before washing themselves away and leaving his Southend-stamped barks standing alone, unrelenting.

In fact, insistence is something These New Puritans seem intent on. It stems naturally, in fact, from another characteristic of Beat Pyramid, one that is at odds with its evidently educated origins. For all the talk of Heraclites, for all "Numerology"'s matter-of-fact accounts of it titular concept ("Number 1 is the individual/Number 2, duality"), the album retains an undeniably youthful sense of vigour -- though not playful, really, but ballsy. This doesn't always pay dividends. The smug, repeated declarations of "We were right" that make up the brattish chorus of "C. 16±" is the closest Beat Pyramid comes to grating, but elsewhere, such as on "En Papier"'s jubilant gang-chant chorus line, it invests a degree of personality into a record that could otherwise become bogged down by its own pretension.

In the end it's an appealing and successful, if contradictory, combination, this mesh of intellect and youthful attitude, and it highlights perhaps Beat Pyramid's greatest strength: its variety. In the best possible sense, it's very much an album that could only be a debut; full of ideas, yet also indebted to influence; full of pretension, yet fitfully visceral. But it's not so much the product of a band fumbling for their sound, but precociously finding it already. So while Barnett's voice frequently rings a Mark E. Smith-branded bell and "Costume" could easily be Animal Collective via hazy coastal Southend, taken as a whole These New Puritans in truth don't really sound like anyone else. Beat Pyramid is an idiosyncratic, swaggering, and intellectual album, but more importantly for the listener, a damn exciting and original one too.

8

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image