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Anatomy of an Album: These New Puritans Dissect “Hidden”

The British wing of last decade’s post-punk revival can be whittled down into two camps. On one side, you have the Bloc Parties and Maximo Parks: Indie pop-rockers who cleverly disguise themselves with Gang of Four’s pointy guitar sounds and Joy Division beats, but without the challenging diversity of the original post-punk era. These New Puritans fall into that other, much smaller, camp: They answer their ancestors’ call to innovate and refuse to be lumped in with the revival set. On Hidden, the band transcends the “post” tag by throwing out the Mark E. Smith-isms that dominated their 2008 debut, Beat Pyramid, and embracing everything from booming dancehall beats, Japanese Taiko drums and movie sound effects to Steve Reich minimalism, Benjamin Britten operas, English Renaissance composers, and even a children’s choir.

Put it all together and you have something that can only be described as Peter and the Wolf at the apocalypse. It’s also one of the year’s finest (and strangest) releases. With eyebrows raised in awe, we asked band mastermind Jack Barnett to dissect for us the numerous elements and influences that combined to create Hidden.

William Byrd

“William Byrd lived and died nearby to where I live. I think its landscape has also influenced me. His consort songs are the saddest pieces of music I’ve ever heard. I like their strictness and inevitability too. I’d really recommend people listen to him.”

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Foley artists

“Foley is the person who invented the early recording techniques used in film soundtracks. At first I was thinking of getting a Foley artist to come in and guest on the album. In the end we just researched it ourselves and spent a day on it. I had an idea for a kind of pop music with a pop/R&B diva singing over a really crystalline clear hi-fi recording of swords and knives swinging and clanking. That’s what led us down that path.”

Benjamin Britten

“Benjamin Britten was the overriding influence on this album — especially his operas. Peter Grimes is good. It’s music that sounds like the sea and that’s what I wanted some of our music to sound like. His music is completely unlike anyone else’s. It’s completely strange but completely immediate.”

Taiko drums

“I can’t remember where I first heard them, but as well as being the loudest and biggest instruments I’ve ever heard, they also have a great tone, a really strange tone. We hired three of them for a day, it’s quite cheap — they arrived on a lorry.”

New London Children’s Choir

“They’re a choir from some primary school in north London. They’re called the New London Children’s Choir. Actually, that was one of the last things to be recorded because we’d arranged it with another school choir. They’d been learning all the music in their class and we went and visited them at their school to talk to them about the music. It was all arranged but then their headmaster pulled out of it at the last moment, so we had to start again with a different school. New London is the name for heaven in Will Self’s Book of Dave, actually.”

Steve Reich

“I’m not really a huge fan of minimalism in general, but Steve Reich is excellent, especially some of the later stuff. I like the infectious rhythms. We wanted to combine some of those rhythms with dancehall rhythms on ‘We Want War’ — you can hear it in places.”

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