These New Puritans are “post-rock” in an unusually literal way—since encrypting post-punk on 2008’s wiry, caustic Beat Pyramid, they’ve been an avant-garde band with a major-label budget, integrating classical composition, jazz instrumentation, musique concrete, primitive folk, dancehall, basically everything but rock’n’roll. More importantly, while they’ve maintained something of a power trio lineup, no one asks them a question so often posed to “rock bands”—“How are they going to pull this off live?” The apt comparisons to the otherwise incomparable Talk Talk are warranted, as the creation of Hidden and Field of Reeds were similarly defined by the trio’s isolation—from trends, from budgetary constraints and from the mundanity of the album cycle. Likewise, they use near-mythical tales of studio trickery to tease fans rather than singles, as Victoria’s Secret money gets funneled into Foley effects and falconry, Britain’s lowest voice and eight-foot Japanese taiko drums. But if they are going to pull this off live, These New Puritans aren’t ones to half-ass anything and so, this is how we arrive at Expanded—performing with a 35-piece orchestra, at “Europe’s largest multi-arts and conference venue.”
This isn’t just the best means of presenting Field of Reeds live, it might be the only way. Another commonality These New Puritans share with late-period Talk Talk is a status of being commercial non-entities in the States and believe me, no matter how suave they look on stage, this is awkward as hell in a rock club that might otherwise host, say, Finch or Marilyn Manson in 2014—earlier this year, I saw an impeccable performance interrupted by Sunset Strip stragglers and a Brazilian guy on Molly who kept requesting “Elvis”. By comparison, the polite clapping that accompanies Expanded may puncture the hermetic seal, but it doesn’t take all of the air out; if anything, it serves as a reminder that this is not a typical rock show.
Jack Barnett has been forthcoming about his lack of instrumental or compositional knowledge, but he is an exacting boss; these musicians are trained to not fuck up and they are not held to lower standards because These New Puritans are technically a pop band. So the alterations are minor, if any: “Fragment Two” was Field of Reeds’ most conventional moment and that’s obviously relative. And so it’s subject to the most conventional effect of live performance, which is that it plays slightly faster and looser than its studio counterpart. Meanwhile, “Island Song” goes straight into the incantatory portion of its mesmerizing coda rather than teasing it out as it does on the record.
Even the most inscrutable sounds on Field of Reeds evolved from an organic source and the most “how’d they do that?” moments are captured with startling clarity—the undulating, magnetic resonator-piano melody that snakes throughout “Island Song”, the hypnotic motifs of “Organ Eternal”, the glass-shattering crescendo of “The Light in Your Name”. In fact, Barnett and his charges are so adept at recreating the subtle complexities of Field of Reeds, that they don’t just render Expanded a total misnomer. They call its entire reason for existence into question.
With the exception of a two-minute “Intro Tape”, These New Puritans play Field of Reeds almost verbatim—in its exact order, with little, if any variation from the original versions. So why listen to this instead of Field of Reeds? Barnett considers Expanded to be on the level of TNP’s albums and called these performances improvements over the originals; but it’s too close to call even for those who’ve completely immersed within Field of Reeds’ otherworldly environs, which is even more disappointing than the typical refractory release, i.e., the well-intentioned and often terribly-executed remix album. Considering the austerity of its arrangements and their open-ended structure, Field of Reeds actually stands as a rare instance of a record that could lend itself to total teardowns.
The price of admission is warranted once the record-setting basso profundo of “Field of Reeds” fades out; new composition “Spitting Stars” is another lovely, pastoral collaboration with Graham Sutton, but considering the long latency periods and wild deviations from one These New Puritans record to the next, it’s likely an appendage to Field of Reeds rather than an indication of where they might go next. There are also two selections from Hidden, the more intimidating, less “orchestral” predecessor to Field of Reeds and the record that would have been better suited to this format.
For all of its stunt sonics—smashed watermelons, sharpened knives, M.I.A. interpolations—much of it was proudly composed on cheap keyboards. As such, “We Want War” embodies the entire timeline of human combat, from sticks and stones to modern digital strikes. But with the addition of Portuguese fado singer Elisa Rodrigues and the orchestral replacements for those digital dancehall patches, the textures of “We Want War” and proto-Yeezus banger “Three Thousand” are too cohesive, sounding closer to the overblown bombast of Michael Bay or Metallica’s S&M.
But it’s more of a disappointment than a failure—at the very least, it might serve as someone‘s introduction to These New Puritans. But there is precedent for bands just as studiocentric properly utilizing this style of live performance: Kraftwerk’s Minimum-Maximum, Portishead’s PNYC, Spiritualized’s Royal Albert Hall, October 10, 1997: Live —and if Expanded doesn’t reach that level by any means, at least it’s more worthwhile than the track-by-track, aggressively redundant cash-ins of the Cure’s Trilogy or Depeche Mode’s Songs of Faith and Devotion Live. But if it takes a classic rock cliche to emphasize how far beyond rock These New Puritans really are, then Expanded is a total success.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1CZ4szK