With Hidden, Essex's These New Puritans have delivered one of the first outstanding albums of the new year, an album that's genuinely startling and truly experimental. In part a musical homage to Essex's Thames Estuary area (which once inspired composer Benjamin Britten), it's also relentlessly modern, juicing electro and dancehall rhythms into addicting new flavours. Over these barrages of rhythm (which often reinvent the Burundi-inspired onslaught of Adam & The Ants) the quartet layer mournful voices, rolling pianos and woodwind. The net effect is like sitting between speakers which are playing, respectively, Tricky and Miles Davis. The Puritans' ambitions on their second release are to be applauded: this is uneasy listening, intricately wrought and a powerful, immersive — a cinematic experience.
From the ever-shifting climes of "We Want War" (an avalanche of aggression that gradually reveals a reflective underbelly) to the minimal, melancholy finale of "5" with its hints of Michael Nyman, Hidden is grandiose and challenging. "Three Thousand" lays a hip-hop backbeat under dark poetic mutterings, while "Hologram" could serve as light relief if it weren't so dissonant and jazzy. Perhaps the key track is "Attack Music," a claustrophobic loop of breaking glass and choral chanting which comes as close to encapsulating TNP's modus operandi as anything could. Although their brittle, self-doubting side re-emerges on the plaintive "White Chords."
An environmental message is coded in the lyrics, though the arresting collage of sounds evokes a bitter metropolitan chill. Daring and idiosyncratic, this is a singular work you'll return to again and again, intrigued, spooked and enchanted.