It’s an unexpectedly candid statement from the frontman. Since the Southend-founded outfit released its spiky, abrasive debut ‘Beat Pyramid’ in 2008, he’s chanted confrontational lyrics about numbers, colours and philosophy, worn chainmail vests on stage and even declared that all music recorded from 1600 to 2005 was rubbish.
Although jetlagged and weary after arriving in the UK from the video shoot for ‘Fragment Two’ in New York, the intense and softly spoken Barnett quickly brushes this comment off. “I was just joking really when I said that, but there’s some truth to it. I like all sorts of music at different times. I don’t like the obsession with people always chasing what’s new. I would never listen to anything just because it’s new. I listen to stuff because it’s good.”
- - -
‘Fragment Two’, from ‘Field Of Reeds’
- - -
It’s no surprise then that ‘Fields Of Reeds’ – the band’s third album and first for Infectious Music, named after the Egyptian heavenly paradise “where things carry on as they are forever” – is scattered with disparate influences, some harder to pin down than others.
Having listened to classic songwriters like Burt Bacharach and Leonard Bernstein and the colourful jazz-funk of Steely Dan, Barnett particularly admires the latter group for “their determination to make everything right at all costs”.
Recorded partly in a former radio complex in Berlin with conductor André de Ridder leading a classical ensemble, and co-produced with longstanding collaborator Graham Sutton, the result of Barnett’s perfectionism is a glorious album that ditches the taiko drums and dancehall horns of its predecessor, 2010’s accolades-laden ‘Hidden’ (Clash review), for genre-bending torch songs and spacious, glimmering chamber music.
While the record’s piercing intimacy sounds more refined than the Fall-like post-punk sketches of ‘Beat Pyramid’ and the ancient military assault of ‘Hidden’, it retains the band’s unbridled eclecticism that saw the latter album hailed by some as the first masterpiece of the 2010s.
From the sombre piano introduction of opener ‘This Guy’s In Love With You’, album three is noticeably more personal, with Barnett wrapping his tender vocals around themes of love, life and death. “When I was writing the songs, I suppose the feelings I wanted to try and get across would just override any other sort of consideration, so I wasn’t something I had particular control over,” he explains.
The first single, ‘Fragment Two’, exemplifies this new “impulse” perfectly. Beginning with bright piano chords, it transforms into a claustrophobic haze of irregular rhythms, unsettling horns and intriguing lyrics.
“It’s funny, because people are saying and writing that it’s ominous and dark,” he points out. “But to me, the song’s quite hopeful. Obviously there are bits of darkness to it as well, but that’s only natural to me.”
Barnett’s not worried about catching fans out with the band’s change in direction: “I think our fans sort of expect that from us, which is nice in a way. We’d feel more under pressure if we felt that we had to stay the same. That would be more unnatural to me. We really don’t pay any attention to expectations.
“I feel like if you can see the expectations too much, then that’s actually slightly insulting to the audience because you’re saying, ‘We don’t think you have the intelligence to appreciate something that hasn’t been tailored towards you’.”
- - -
‘We Want War’, from ‘Hidden’
- - -
This is an edit of a fuller feature on These New Puritans, available in issue 86 of Clash magazine. Find details on said issue, and buy yourself a copy, here.
Find These New Puritans online here.
- - -
Words: James Evans
Photos: Alex Sainsbury
Get the best of Clash on your iPhone - download the app here