He’s in a trap, is Barnett. With 2010’s ‘Hidden’ he hired a choir from Prague to act as a ‘fifth member’ of sorts, leading them into subsequent live shows. Everything was grand, beautifully acquired and arranged. To retreat back to beat-driven experimentalism would be judged as a failure.
‘Field Of Reeds’ isn’t eclecticism for eclecticism’s sake. But when you read the list of guests on These New Puritans’ third album, you might scoff: Michel van der Aa - a man responsible for 3D-video-operas; Elisa Rodrigues, a Portuguese blues singer; synergy vocals; a children’s choir; violins; french horns. Is it all strictly necessarily or is it just like a veteran tourist showing off the fruits of their travels?
You wonder as much until you play the record. Though on the surface you’re most led towards Jack’s own, monotoned vocals, what eventually plays out on ‘Field of Reeds’ is quite remarkable. You’ve something like ‘V (Island Song)’ that, during its nine minutes stay, swings from electronic throbs to de-tuned piano, right up to the all-important basso profondo. If it sounds ridiculous, it is. And then you’ve ‘Organ Eternal’, a song which’ll no doubt leave you reaching for a dust-covered copy of The Exorcist just to see how alike Barnett’s latest creation is with ‘Tubular Bells’. Its Mike Oldfield-style glow is rarely interrupted, and if it is it’s through darkened strings or what can only be equated to the sound of a cat shrieking.
Perhaps Jack had an epiphany, a taste of the darkness, and he’s running with it. Regardless, in part an extension of ‘Hidden’, this cinematic tour de force plays on its listeners fears. Every uncomfortable squirm on your part is a victory for the band.
But no success tastes sweeter than when ‘Field Of Reeds’ excels. ‘Fragment Two’ is by no means streamlined - anything but - but it’s the record’s most accessible moment, cold and rotten on the outside, a beautiful piece at its core. And ‘Nothing Else’ is a gripping, eight-minute affair, the sound of winter-torn forestry shedding its last leaves.
Ambition often manifests itself into self-indulgence, and from the off you’re convinced ‘Field Of Reeds’ could slip into said territory. But it’s an exceptional case, where its makers hit the jackpot, where imagination runs riot and gets away with every daring feat, each one more foolish than the previous.
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The Barnett brothers have also announced a special one-off show at the Barbican.
The Big Moon, Villagers, Self Esteem and more have been added to the line-up.
Sometimes, maybe you can just be a bit too clever for your own good.
New album ‘Inside The Rose’ is out next week.