Beat Pyramid (Domino, 2008)
by These New Puritans
originally published at Dusted Magazine
These New Puritans make post-punk music for an audience who has heard everything there is to be said about the import of post-punk music. They play obstinately repetitive songs with taut rhythms and obtuse lyrics, but this is only fieldwork. The real motion of the project, it would appear, consists in getting bored with and stripping down a cultural philosophy based on getting bored with and stripping down culture. There is not much about These New Puritans that doesn’t seem second-degree.
As such, Beat Pyramid feels more like a statement than an album. All the relevant parts — the elementary angularities, the nervous discipline, the “post-punk signifiers” — float around in enervated stasis, generally stripped of their usefulness: they’re concepts and buzzwords, not songs; their relationship to one another is didactic, not expressive. This in itself isn’t any newer or less tedious than postmodernism for its own sake, but the Puritans’ tack makes surprisingly good sense. This is music played by, and to the attention of, a generation for whom Gang of Four and the Fall are received wisdom; it’s an aesthetic ancestry reduced to first principles, defiant in its negation of the idea that it’s necessary to actually make something from them.
All of which makes Beat Pyramid sound less entertaining than it really is. For all the implicit historicism, the closest contemporary reference point is probably Bloc Party; These New Puritans wield all the energy, appeal and antsy musicianship of that band, just none of the compassion. When a set of disjointed parts comes together intelligently, as on “Navigate-Colours,” the elegance is the mathematical kind; when they come together in an affecting way, as on “Elvis” and “Mkk3,” it might as well be accidental. Either way, the record is neither humorless nor overly methodical, nor does it push an agenda. The points on which it insists are either irrational boasts, like “Infinity’s not as fast as me” or “And to history / We will say / We were right” (chorus: “We were right!” 15 times), or simple, quasi-dissonant tonalities. The one pair of end rhymes during these 35 minutes feels like the most heavy-handedly academic thing on the record.
Bottom line, These New Puritans play it smart, but in service of an earnest query rather than their own smartness. Their mistrust of conventional, composite truths is their charisma, and vice versa. They apply it to principles about numbers and colors and synchronicity, but above all to the notion that music is bankrupt without some internal meaning, whether positive or deconstructive. Beat Pyramid offers agility and insistence and obscures the rest; the only thing you get to know about These New Puritans is that they don’t feel they owe you anything more. Whether that’s presumptuous or revelatory, they’re pretty much right.back