A friend said to me recently, "Every time I play the lottery, I fucking lose!" The numbers game has always and will be supremely seductive; the paradox of logic and disillusion will keep us going back and scratching off Pick-10's until we're bust. In rock music, numbers occupy a mythical perch -- imagine Led Zeppelin without the roman numerals or Joey Ramone without the 1-2-3-4's. These New Puritans won't be dispensing with the myth anytime soon. Along with their numerology come codes, palindromes, puzzles, and a nice dose of twitch-spit-scratch. Art-pretension in rock has never had it better. These New Puritans spent 2007 touring endlessly in the UK, backing their Now Pluvial EP. Around this time last year, these guys were getting a lot of attention for their sprawling fifteen-minute track "Navigate, Navigate", that served as the musical backdrop for Hedi Slimane's final runway show. I suppose there are far worse things for an unproven band than aligning yourself with Slimane and the Dior aesthetic, and the hype machine that followed them for the next year swelled with both accolades and dismissals.
Their name is an amalgam of the song "New Puritan" by The Fall and the New Puritans literary movement of the early 2000's (your guess is as good as mine). Brothers Jack and George Barnett provide the visual diptych of twin symmetry-think Kray brothers meets mod-top era Pete Townshend. And further upping the ante is Gareth Jones, mega-producer for several Depeche Mode and Wire albums. The best parts of Beat Pyramid all emanate from Jones knowing how to carve out the unfamiliar from the familiar, and having everything on the soundstage stripped down to almost bone. More importantly though, Jones has crafted it all to make it superbly art-school danceable. The beats rarely stray from a tribal marching band-like primitivism, and the guitars are fantastically spastic, knifing in and out with matador precision. The fluttery keyboard work by Sophie Sleigh-Johnson is refreshingly minimal, somehow strip-mining the synth sounds of both ELO and Cocteau Twins at once. Jack Barnett loves citing Wu-Tang as an influence (I wanna see a chess duel between RZA/GZA and the Barnett brothers, celebrity death match-style), and as far-fetched as the hip-hop analogy sounds, it's not that far off once you start realizing that Beat Pyramid's vocal work is all mantra repetition and lyrical bravado. But the 36 chambers These New Puritans are interested in don't really include shadowboxing or protectin' necks. Instead, it's all about dislocation, cryptic ciphers and returning to zero.
The first track of Beat Pyramid is wrapped in its last one ("...ce I Will Say This Twice" and "I Will Say This Twi..."). The second song "Numerology aka Numbers" and its military snare thump is the one that warms it up. The vocals spiral around an aloof mantra of "What's your favorite number, what does it mean?" before quickly spitting out "numerology is all shit". The next song "Colours" includes the splintery guitar lick and chorus from "Navigate, Navigate", but now condensed from the original fifteen minutes into a more pop friendly two-and-a-half. Wander a little further into the album and you'll find the Ritalin-laced hooks on "Elvis," which practically slay the entire Fall back catalogue. There's a few interstitial sketches scattered about ("Doppelganger," "C.16th," "MKK3"), none of which are all that lust-worthy; they mostly serves as thematic stopgaps. Beat Pyramid's most gripping moment is "Navigate-Colours," found towards the end of the album. The chorus of "Colours" is dizzily reprised here, and the last ninety seconds or so is brilliant-the vocals, guitars and drums all unfold and crumple onto each other like a roundtable (or pyramid, right?) of talking heads.
Practically all of Beat Pyramid's compact thirty-five minutes is angular and fragmental in its geometry. Guitar shards and twitchy synth lines, seemingly disjointed to start, somehow find parallels in the end. But it's not all numbers in the dark; the best parts of Throbbing Gristle's negative-land soundscape and Suicide's icy loop machinery can all be found on this album. Modernism isn't a form that's particularly difficult to articulate in music, and a lot of bands stumble onto it by accident just by unplugging the overdrive pedal or, inversely, blasting the gain. It's just that These New Puritans have managed to craft a sound that's both revivalist and inceptive. Looks like there's a bubbling scene in Southend London now (The Horrors, Ipso Facto) and these bands seem like they have legs. "If not now, then when?,"Jack Barnett pretentiously scowls at the beginning of "Colours". For modernism's sake, the time is always now.