These New Puritans' formidably serious new album 'Hidden' has been getting music critics worked up, with good cause.
Louis Pattison, writing for the BBC, describes lead-off track 'We Want War' as being "seven minutes of tinny synthesised horns, droning bassoon... and wood-on-wood clacks" - which admittedly makes it sound vaguely like your school orchestra struggling through 'Little Donkey', but bear with me.
"Elsewhere," continues the sometime NME scribe, "the mood is pagan, hallucinogenic, severe" (sort of like Glastonbury's Stone Circle on Saturday night, then). Meanwhile, one broadsheet has called TNP's second album "the first masterpiece of the 2010s."
Basically, it's a very good record indeed, but - as you might have gathered from the reviews already quoted - not exactly an easy listen. You're unlikely to hear bleak, woodwind-heavy tracks such as 'Drum Courts - Where Corals Lie' sandwiched between Kasabian and The Courteeners at your local lager-soaked indie disco. None of the songs could be described as 'steering wheel-tappers'. It's an album to be puzzled over, savoured, scrutinised. You get the idea.
We've been listening to it a lot in the office, interspersed with occasional spins (well, one spin) of The Knife's new effort, an operatic concept album inspired by the life of Charles Darwin. Again, it's not exactly Match Of The Day soundbed fare - but, like most things the enigmatic masked electro duo put their name to, no doubt it'll reveal more with repeated listens.
Listening to both these records inspired us to celebrate the thorny, more avant-garde corners of our record collections. Here, then, are a few 'difficult' albums that we love. Suggest your own by posting a comment. And no, The Enemy's 'Music For The People' doesn't count.
Deus, 'In A Bar, Under The Sea'. An infuriating band at the best of times - for every soul saving alt. rock belter they've got three songs with bassoon solos in them. And there's lots of songs with bassoon solos on their second record. Yet amongst the jazzy mush, the dirgy Beefheart obsessed piano ballads, the ones where Tom Barman sounds like a tramp spitting out his own teeth, there's a song called 'Serpentine'. It would shine like a diamond even embedded in the sun. Amongst the shit produced by the band at their most self-indulgent, it positively radiates.
Liars, 'They Were Wrong, So We Drowned'. Just before they got too clattery, the perfect balance between hypnotic fuzz-grooves and mental noises like Blair Witches trapped in radiators.
Aphex Twin, 'Selected Ambient Works 85-92'. Tracks like ‘Ageopolis’, ‘Heliospan’, ‘Xtal’, ‘Tha’ and ‘Pulsewidth’ soar majestically or bubble along beautifully. At the other end of the spectrum the likes of ‘Green Calx’, ‘Hedphelym’ and ‘We Are The Music Makers’ are guaranteed to make someone near you splutter, “What the FUCK are you listening to?”
Captain Beefheart, 'Trout Mask Replica'. Just for the bit where he goes: "A squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag is fast and bulbous. Got me?"
Of Montreal, 'Skeletal Lamping'. With its crazy lurches of tempo and subject matter - complete with pretentious song titles like 'Triphallus, To Punctuate!' - a lot of this album sounds like pop music as filtered through the mind of a swivel-eyed psycho. I initially hated. I think I still sort of hate it, but at least I can appreciate its genius.
King Crimson, 'In The Court Of The Crimson King (An Observation by King Crimson)'. The prog pioneers' first album exploded into an unsuspecting '69 a beautiful mess of discordant guitars, twisted brass and about 17 time signatures, and introduced the world to the unhinged genius of Robert Fripp.