A Cacophony of Textures
Field of Reeds, the latest album from London-based These New Puritans, is like a monastic, early 2000s-era Radiohead: There’s an air of deliberation and complexity underscored by the beautiful tension of organic and synthetic sounds. Unconventional vocals either ooze out in a soupy choral splatter or ping off cement walls like banshees foretelling someone’s imminent demise. People often lump TNP into the “art rock” category, but on this album there is an air of abstract classical composition; think Brooklyn meets the Royal Albert Hall.
Album opener “This Guy’s In Love With You” starts off with some icy piano keys and disembodied vocals, but about halfway through takes on a full arrangement of horns, strings and everything in between. This shift carries it to a place where it could serve as the possible theme song for a David Lynch-driven remake of Taxi Driver.
“Spiral” carries on the quasi-Angelo Badalamenti exercise of the opener, but this time a chorus of pitch-shifted voices run through molasses take center stage. This complements the brooding strings punctuated with cool horns and meaningful vocal leads doused in jazzy undertones. There’s a sacred quality here.
“Organ Eternal” switches gears a bit, placing at its forefront an excited synthesizer arpeggio that would have mostly been at home on Philip Glass’s minimalist masterpiece, Glassworks. A piano and vibes come in to mimic the synthesizer as a strange, crying sound bounces around the mix like a specter. It could be vocals, or it could be another sound effect. Whatever it is, it combines with the dark strings to make something truly macabre. Vocals that sound like a narcotic Thom Yorke usher everything along.
The final (and title) song is a dissonant, off-putting and beautiful number. The bass vocals take on the sound of Tibetan monks chanting their deep meditations on impermanence. The lead vocals of Jack Barnett slowly melt into something short of flatulence. Halfway through, though, this all overlaps with a highly mathematical Philip Glassesque composition. An oboe glues together two sides of the spectrum: sheer horror and unmitigated hope. Earlier themes return, building up to a point where the listener is not really sure how to feel about any of this album.
The last couple minutes of the final song on Field or Reeds fade out with a conversation between strings and another metaphysical-sounding voice. This cool-down tempers the mixed-emotions of the mid-section before abruptly cutting out. This beautiful, difficult and rewarding album is over. The listener is again reminded that nothing lasts forever.