Okay maybe it’s because I’m one of those useless music dweebs who’s, like, worried about the future of rock and stuff, but the most exciting thing for me about Field of Reeds, the latest outing by London-based art-rockers These New Puritans, is what comes next. TV’s golden number is 100. The rare show that reaches the 100 episode mark has earned its place in the cannon. If you’re asking me, music’s number is four, but the algorithm isn’t so simple. A degree of subjectivity must be applied, along with that testy and oft overused descriptor: great. One great album can, by itself, alter the course of rock’s evolution, but may just be lightning in a bottle. Four great albums means a great band. The Velvet Underground, Dylan, Talking Heads, the ‘Mats, the Stones, the Beatles, Sonic Youth — these are the pillars of rock, and they’ve all done it. These New Puritans have one more to go.
Of course, tensions are high. Narrative is what makes TNP’s journey so interesting and hopeful. Beat Pyramid was an audacious debut, fierce and jagged, making nods to the gods of post-punk but steaming with a distinctive post-capitalist furor, and amateurish only in the most natural ways - a band must leave room for themselves to grow. 2010‘s Hidden established a characteristic grandeur, complete with orchestral themes and brass sections, but still bursting with agitative energy. It was an all-around bang-up success, one of the most balanced, thrilling albums of the decade so far. The band went from following the cutting edge to leading. The record’s atmosphere lent itself to a sea-change in electro-rock and can be heard in bits and pieces on the Knife’s latest, as well as Liars’ WIXIW (2012), which may as well have been a botched remake.
Field of Reeds was the group’s first real chance to slip up. They could have been safe and stuck with their formula. Thing is, that would have been a slip-up. Here, they’ve tossed out aggression, succinctness, and really, everything punk. All that’s remained of the past is the painstaking arrangement. The songs are floating compositions, with an emphasis on beauty, ambiguity, and muted discord. They confuse as much as they relax, seeping out from a perilous state between sleep and wakefulness. In the hole left by the spitting and growling there has developed an abject sadness, not pointed at anything in particular, but sobering. If anything, it brings to mind post-rock of the Talk Talk variety, but where Laughing Stock was free-flowing and stitched together, Field of Reeds feels precise, as if the band wouldn’t have it any other way.
Here they are, then: These New Puritans have found a place to stand apart from all trends and peers. Theatrical as it is subdued, Field of Reeds *thinks* that it’s the best record of the year. We’ll see. I think they’ve still got their masterpiece inside of them. No matter what happens next, it will be fascinating to watch.