July 21, 2013

Album Review: Fuck Buttons' Slow Focus


Being the open-ended genre it is, when UK electro-noise duo Fuck Buttons arrived on the scene back in 2008 with their debut Street Horrrsing, it was evident Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power's sonic vision had created a style that possessed a crossover duality in it by pulling together ambient-lit anthems and physically-embedded rhythms onto the same lane. As much as it could appeal to fans of Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada, Fuck Buttons didn't make it difficult for listeners as far out as the hardcore and post-rock spectrum to indulge as well. Their sophomore follow-up just one year later in Tarot Sport was a cinematically brighter version of this sound -- if not with more pop bounce -- and its reach was cemented last summer when their music made a surprise appearance in the conservative quarters of the opening ceremony events at the London Olympic Games. In the four years since their last release however, the tribal drum bashings of their early work has fallen by the wayside within the noise landscape where as the electronic half of their personality only advances itself as the barometer of forward-thinking evolution.

Fuck Buttons' third LP, Slow Focus, is Hung and Power's most directly channeled effort to date, but it doesn't come without some compromise to their harsher personality to achieve a prismatic model of electronic architecture, trading in the universal euphoric experience of the Olympiad for a menacing full-screen bounce. "Brainfreeze" is the 8-and-half-minute opener that counterparts Tarot Sport's standout intro "Surf Solar" with scorched-earth chugging and fiery ambiance storming around each loop, and sequenced with "Year of the Dog," Fuck Buttons exit the earth's atmosphere and into extra-terrestrial terrain teased about in Power's work under his solo moniker of Blanck Mass with its creepy crawly, starry-eyed synths and waves of dark matter engulfing them the deeper you proceed into the track. It's on the album's lead single "The Red Wing" where he and Hung offer this effort's swerve for listeners with its clankering of water glass percussion and bombed-out snares where their solar-paneled soundscape takes the passenger's seat to a beat-driven pattern more akin to the common structure of a hip-hop track. "Sentients" carries on this practice in a less deliberate sense, pushing a muted tribal behind mechanical arms and loud bass dubs for quite some time before the duo resurrects the red wall of reverb to burn away its tail end, while "Prince Price" serves as an interlude to return to the beat topography once more, but not before sputtering arcade shots across the galaxy first. All of this shape-shifting along the listen is ultimately converges in climactic fashion in the LP's two closing 10-minute-plus epics, the blistering "Stalker," and the sum of all stardust, "Hidden XS."

Initially, "The Red Wing"'s progressive abandonment of that universally appealing duality of Fuck Button's loud / soft early material made it easy to wonder whether or not Slow Focus might be the album to drive a spike between them and listeners drawn to their caterwauling take on electronic-noise. Friction between pop nuances and grating noise is, however, what feeds Hung and Power's aesthetic, and differentiates them from a pack of two-dimensional hip-hop producers, industrial noise artists or run-of-the-mill electronic DJs. There are tracks on Slow Focus which side more heavily with one end of their spectrum than others, but the English duo hasn't necessarily chosen one over the other just yet. In striving toward cohesion, the two have brought their sound beyond the cosmos by providing some space between its polar ends. Slow Focus' longer tracks require a heightened level of immersion, patience, and -- for a lack of better words -- focus to reveal themselves throughout the experience, but in subduing their carnal instincts, Fuck Buttons haven't depleted their solar energy source, nor have they flattened their sound down to ground level.


Fuck Buttons' Slow Focus will be released July 23, 2013 on ATP Recordings.

1 comment:

  1. Great review. Looking forward to this one!

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