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Fuck Buttons - 'Slow Focus'

The duo’s synapse-melting electro was showcased at the 2012 Olympics – but the exposure hasn’t changed them

Fuck Buttons - 'Slow Focus'

Album Info

  • Release Date: July 22, 2013
  • Label: ATP Recordings
8 / 10 There have been noise acts in the past who have achieved some degree of commercial success, and there will be plenty more in the future. But the career arc of Andrew Hung and Benjamin Power, in their musical guise as Fuck Buttons, is one of the more unlikely examples. Forming in Bristol in 2004, their early and messy experiments as goofy, sub-Black Dice tone-tweakers were heard by few. Over time, though, they have incorporated tangible beats and a highly fucked take on trance, and people have started freaking out to it in greater numbers.

‘Street Horrrsing’, their 2008 debut album, was the sound of a band still in its developmental stage – indebted to the pleasures of the undulating drone and the crunchy techno stomp, made extra boisterous by shouty processed vocals. It was swiftly followed by ‘Tarot Sport’, on which the Hung/Power vision began to crystallise. Songs mainly ran to upwards of eight minutes, ample time to induce krautrock euphoria and simultaneously sandpaper your frontal lobes. The four-year gap between that and album three, ‘Slow Focus’, seems incongruous, but Fuck Buttons haven’t been idle: there has been Power’s side project, Blanck Mass, who released a self-titled album of lush, immersive ambience in 2011, and both members have been learning the ways of the studio. Andrew Weatherall was at the controls for ‘Tarot Sport’, but the absence of him or any other production pro on ‘Slow Focus’ doesn’t hurt a bit.

It is all-consuming and consistently impressive from the off: ‘Brainfreeze’ starts with a taut loop of almighty clanging drums that burrow into the brain even before they’re joined by a piercing keyboard riff. Fuck Buttons might not play noise music any more, strictly speaking, but the tricks they’ve retained serve them very well. Namely, bouts of atonal battery that recall all manner of industrial crazies from 30 years back (Einstürzende Neubauten, Throbbing Gristle, Test Dept), and the art of inducing submission through repetition. Yet even in the gnarliest moments on ‘Slow Focus’, a soothing payoff is always round the corner. Just as Hung and Power are affable personalities, their music is never gratuitously unfriendly. ‘Year Of The Dog’ drags matters of percussion in the opposite direction, by not having any. Rather, it’s a cheerful meeting of different synth FX: aqueous bubbling ambience, manic sawing that sounds like some ’90s German trance obscurity, a celestial droid chorus.

The pitched-down, quasi-rap beats and midrange fuzz mean ‘The Red Wing’ wins the hotly contested award for the Fuck Buttons song that’d sound best blasting from a pimped-up lowrider. They succeed at dimly lit melancholy on ‘Prince’s Prize’ – probably the closest they’ve ever come to actual techno. And, in the case of ‘Stalker’, they succeed at creating a feeling of looming dread, wherein the listener’s thoughts drift to Italian horror movies. Specifically, it sounds like ’70s soundtrack wizards Goblin playing through ripped speaker cones, and carries grandeur unmatched by anything else in the band’s catalogue. On the album’s final bow, ‘Hidden XS’ – which, like ‘Stalker’, is a hair over 10 minutes long – there are punchy kickdrums, fizzing electronics and a result that’s like IDM enacted with a prog mentality. Which is a lot better than it probably sounds.

Only ‘Sentients’ comes close to dud status on ‘Slow Focus’ – its drums are clunky and arrhythmic, it isn’t noisy enough to consume you that way, and, well, that belching bass motif is a bit bloody annoying. Plausibly, it might be what all of Fuck Buttons’ music sounds like to people who think they’re rubbish. But do the other six tracks constitute an album that’ll convert the unconverted? Realistically: probably not. Not because they lack superlative moments, it’s just that there’s a practical limit to how big their synapse-melting crypto-rave niche can get. Heck, the Olympic opening ceremony broadcast their music to 50 trillion people last year – surely the weirdest part of the career arc, and a good one to tell the grandkids – but it wasn’t a money-spinner. Hopefully, instead, they can be proud of what they continue to achieve.

Noel Gardner

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