Monday, March 26, 2007

New Ghosts

The notice taped to the door of the Barfly made it clear: "These New Puritans have had to pull out at the last minute." It's at this sort of time you begin believing in God, just to have someone to blame it all on. Feeling like M.E.S - "The supernatural are in league against me!" - I went in anyway, even dancing, at one point, with the most beautiful woman in the building, so the night wasn't fucking lost. But walking back through 3AM London I was still humming 'C16th'.

Really, I shouldn't expect anything else from them: These New Puritans have made most of their identity through mystery, their oddly-filmed webcasts; their webpage spattered with cryptic fragments of writing and news updates dotted with links leading to pictures of boiling water and trees speeding past; the debut EP released on 7" vinyl in an edition of 500. The only evidence of their being real I have is an MP3 copy of the debut 'Now Pluvial' EP, likely to disappear into digital smoke itself, given my luck. And even this seems not to be a work of human hands: the sound is dense and incandescent, the bass metronomic and pounding, the vocals condensed, sharpened into another element in their 'icepick-in-the forehead' (to use a Zappa phrase) rhythms; digital splinters crack from the sound, and even the guitars sound inhuman and assaultive, their distressed noise reined into a strategic pattern; they change time signatures on a dime, and even the occasional periods, as on 'En Papier', where most instruments drop out, the calm is haunted by mildly buzzing synths and distant vocals, a lull before the next storm.

This formidability is heightened by a cryptic pretension that is wonderful to see when every 'indie' band is systematically 'democratising' music by removing any element that actually produces excitement. While Razorlight and their lab-spawned ilk have white jeans and bad television, These New Puritans have numerology, Kaballah, the mystic networks of the mixing desk, John Dee, Greek pottery, J Dilla, Hedi Slimane, This Heat, the great god Poseidon, samplers, sacred geometry... Jack Garrett's voice sounds disconnected, distant, buried beneath effects, barking a torrent of repetitious invective on topics of righteous obscurity. As Nietzsche said, "All profound spirits need a mask". Smoke and mirrors don't get much better than this.

The distancing effects of the band - their reliance on the mediation of technology and, in the form of resident photographer and webcast director Discordo!, artistic distortion - signal something close to what k-punk calls an "ontological rupture"; the screeching and digital noise, the disdain for the audience's supposed cravings, the disconnection from the subject of the discourse of 'popular music' - sentimental idiocy - firmly place them in the lineage of music disrupting the Romantic myth. As the silicon fortress of Western civilisation expands and deepens at a still-terrifying pace, These New Puritans are channelling the decaying signals of humanity's traces - music, magic, place (they're interested in psychogeography), history. Coming from Southend, a town so faded, so steeped in a rotten past that it's literally become a ghost of itself, where there really is no future, the band have constructed one - the ghost of tape hiss and dissolved glory transmuted into malfunctioning machine-punk.


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