These New Puritans - Field Of Reeds

… How to reappear completely

Despite across-the-board praise and rightful
appearances at the top of end-of-year lists,
These New Puritans’ 2010 album Hidden
remained just that for most record-buyers
presumably distracted by the deluge of far
lesser musical accomplishments that year.
What? Was everyone waiting for a new
Radiohead album or something?

Well, that very thing came, underwhelmed
and went in early 2011, leaving the distinct
feeling that Radiohead had become bored with
themselves. And while it would be pushing it to
suggest that These New Puritans began writing
Field Of Reeds that year in response, it isn’t
pushing it to praise them for taking Yorke and
co’s place and creating what’s arguably the
musical achievement of the 2010s so far.

There are no simple entry points – it
demands engagement, and to be taken as
a whole. You may think, mid-way through
second track Fragment Two, that they’re
picking up from where Hidden left off, but
then it’s like a trapdoor opens into a frankly
indescribable audio vortex. Modal Miles
Davis rubs up with late-period Scott
Walker; the ghost of Talk Talk’s Spirit Of
Eden skulks around in the background
while banked, Gregorian chant-like vocals
keep making appearances to create some
heavy, heavy atmospherics.

Yet this is far from abstracted noise – it’s
absolutely concrete: the minutest detail is
accounted for, giving the album its own
internal logic so that listening to Field Of Reeds
becomes like entering some sort of dream
state. It’s a feeling perhaps best expressed
in a lyric from Fragment Two, capturing
precision and ambiguity in the same image:
“I swam towards your ship like a missile
guided by vague feelings.” Elsewhere,
frontman Jack Barnett sings of uncovering
“something” “in crushed glass by the train
line”; throughout, he’s constantly searching for
a place where “the way to get there is going
round in circles”, at one point asks for “a
prayer that just for a moment real life and
dreaming swap places”. By the time you’re
caught up in Spiral and Organ Eternal, the
latter’s descending sequencer motifs
interrupted by unsettling otherworldly effects,
you wonder how the hell you got there yourself.

The whole album is a voyage of
discovery for both band and listener: the
former pushing themselves out into
uncharted waters, the latter happy to be
led along on an astonishing feat of imagination,
of composition and performance. Trying to
describe the nine-minute V (Island Song) in
words written on a page would be fruitless.
But perhaps this helps: the press release
swears “virtually every sound heard on the
album is as it was played” but, really, it
sounds like it could only have been
captured as intangible thoughts turned
directly into sound. (Even some of the
instruments sound made-up: Professor
Andrew McPherson’s Magnetic Resonator
Piano, anyone?)

Crucially, though, this isn’t a bunch of
smart-arses’ musical equivalent of, “Look,
ma! No hands!” There’s depth here, too. If
the song title The Light In Your Name
doesn’t make your heart tremble a little, then
Jack Barnett and jazz singer Elisa Rodrigues’
duet will, their vocals melting into and pulling
away from each other like two apparitions
weaving a love song.

Fail to fully engage with the album and
you’ll have scant chance of comprehending it,
but therein lies Field Of Reeds’ compelling
beauty. Give yourself over to what’s not only
a 21st-century masterpiece, but also
something timeless that will resonate
whenever you find it. 

5 stars 5 stars 5 stars 5 stars 5 stars

Infectious | tbc (CD / 2-LP)

Reviewed by Jason Draper
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