This is why I hate lists.
I knew about Hidden, the second album by These New Puritans, in February. I knew that it was ambitious, orchestral, experimental; that it tied post-punk to dubstep to English classical; that the singer was… an acquired taste. But something, somewhere, made me resist buying it. I’m not sure what.
Then, by internet happenstance, I found out that it was produced by Graham Sutton of Bark Psychosis, who I’m a massive fan of and who I interviewed, once upon a time, for Stylus. During that interview Graham explained that he didn’t always get turned on by the music he produced for other people, but that, like a gynecologist, that wasn’t an appropriate professional response anyway. The talk of dubstep and Elgar in relation to Hidden made me wonder if he might have enjoyed working on this particular album more than, say, the second Delays record though.
So I bought it, and listened to it, and sure enough, was wowed by the massive Japanese taiko drums, by the subtleties in the mix, by the space, the ambition, the redolence of late-period Talk Talk, even by some of the hooks. But I didn’t fall in love with it immediately.
Then it got made NME’s album of the year, and even though I wasn’t in love with Hidden, it struck me as very clearly being the most exciting choice by NME since they anointed Spiritualized’s Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space in 1997. Further kudos followed; no other polls were topped (that I’ve seen; and I’ve seen a lot), but it was getting plaudits left, right, and centre pretty much.
So I decided to pay it more attention.
And now I’m wishing I’d risked my £10 on a whim back in February, because Hidden actually is astonishing, front-to-back. Had I acquired it and given it the attention it deserved sooner, it would have been up with Caribou and Four Tet in my top ten for the year. A couple of internet music geek associates of mine are talking about it in terms of being the best album of the last few years. I need to give it more time. There’s a lot to explore.
Because Hidden takes in everything. It seems to combine MIA’s repetitious futurist polemic with the dark modernist classicism of Scott Walker’s fascinating, avant-garde The Drift; Talk Talk’s latter day soarings into new hinterlands of ambient/blues/classical/jazz/noise territory with Wire’s Escher-like side-step post-punk songwriting; it combines the hooks and physical punch of noughties digital dance music with the drama, delicacy, and dynamism of beatific, edge-of-chaos string and brass arrangements; it seems to do all this very well indeed. I put it on last night and slowly edged the volume up a little until it enveloped the house and freaked the cats out. Fire-Power’s combative electronic+percussive pummeling, seemingly clearly referencing MIA, suddenly switches into some kind of colliery band elegy.
Someone arrived at my blog the other day by googling “kanye west dark twisted fantasy compression”. I’ve been thinking about ‘remastering’ my old Imperfect Sound Forever article, and I suspect that Hidden has just given me the impetus to do so.