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Fuck-Buttons-Slow-Focus (630x630)

Fuck Buttons

Slow Focus


[ATP Recordings; 2013]



By ; August 9, 2013 


Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

Tarot Sport was, for all intents and purposes, a Fuck Buttons techno record. Largely eschewing the squalling guitars, filtered screamo vocals, and grainy textures of noise that gave Street Horrrsing its bite, it deftly allowed the Bristol duo to avoid the sophomore slump by going out of its way to be as different as possible from its predecessor. Sure, the overarching post-post-rock structures remained, as did their penchant for melodic arrangements that were at once uplifting and vaguely sinister. And “Ribs Out” found its spiritual successor in “Rough Steez,” two second tracks sandwiched between ten-minute stretches of post-post-bliss that served as both further experimentation and transition between main ideas. But for the most part, if you listened to both albums without knowing who made them, it would be easy to assume they were recorded by two different groups entirely.

But after a relative flurry of activity–the “Bright Tomorrow” single in 2007, the two LPs in 2008 and 2009, a remix for Fever Ray–Fuck Buttons brought us perhaps their most unsettling sound of all: silence. In fact, it wasn’t until 2011 that we heard a peep from either of these two, when Benjamin Power released his excellent Blanck Mass debut. Here was another sidestep, steeped in stargazing new age and an almost modern classical sense of patience and restraint. More overtly sentimental and dramatic than either of the Fuck Buttons albums, Blanck Mass nonetheless shares at least a few qualities with Tarot Sport: upper-register synth work, occasional back-of-the-mix grumblings that belie the music’s apparent spiritual calm (listen to “Sifted Gold” again on good headphones and tell me you don’t hear someone–probably Power himself–yammering like the homeless guys who warn about the imminent apocalypse, and if you focus towards the end of “Sundowner” you can hear either wind rushing or someone wailing or both), and most of all, finding that sweet balance between enticing and alienating the listener (sometimes at once). Though it’s a solo effort, Blanck Mass felt more in line with the Fuck Buttons’ musical mission than did Tarot Sport compared to its antecedent.

Two more years and one Olympics later, Power and Andrew Hung have returned at last with album number three, and while it’s once again different from what came before, Slow Focus registers as more of an aesthetic evolution than a sharp left turn. It’s an album of confluences: we get the unabashed electronics of Tarot Sport, the viscous structures and tempos of Street Horrrsing, and yes, those squealing Blanck Mass synths (especially on “Sentients” and “Stalker”). We also get darkly playful hand claps on “Prince’s Prize,” zero-gravity toms on lead single “The Red Wing,” and even another transitional track two in the form of the dizzying arpeggios of “Year Of The Dog.” And everything’s transmitted to us with an uneasy starkness, much like the brooch we see on the cover: it’s beautiful, yes, but it’s also just there, in the middle of all that black, adorning nothing more than our perceptions of the sounds we hear.

Like their debut album, Slow Focus seems to delight in repeating and slowly stacking layers; these songs don’t develop so much as they exude, and while that sounds like it should be a criticism, Fuck Buttons make it work. With just enough accessibility and studio sheen–they self-produced this album and did a marvelous job–Hung and Power give us the sonic equivalent of those deceptively simple I Spy photo spreads: the more time you spend with it, the more details you’ll notice emerging from the ether.

Opener “Brainfreeze” offers a good preview of the album as a whole: driving, almost tribal drum work provides the foundation for all manner of synth filigree, including those high-frequency Blanck Mass cirrus strands of synth. But then the three-chord bombast halts halfway through; the drums drop out; the main synths take on a slightly more sinister edge and gain a chugging rhythmic but not percussive backdrop; a hint of Street Horrrsing-era organ appears; the Blanck Mass synths creep back into the picture; and then with 2:30 left to go, the drums kick back in and all the pieces play together, topped off by some Global Communication-like cinematic quivering. This all unfolds over the course of 8 and a half minutes, but it feels at once astonishingly quick and like it’s gone on forever. In addition to our heads and our understandings of what noise and drone can entail, Power and Hung fuck with our sense of time on this album. Like on their previous full-lengths, these tracks bleed into each other, forming a continuous and bewildering hour’s worth of music that does the “experimental” genre label justice. Fuck Buttons are mad scientists, alchemizing their musical visions into a glorious whole that never seems to reveal all its secrets. Though it’s hardly labyrinthine–these songs proceed in pretty much a linear fashion–Slow Focus immerses the listener in an aural landscape that offers so much to explore.


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