Thursday, 27 June 2013

Fuck Buttons - Slow Focus


I can barely register with categorical confidence the first time I encountered a track that not just exceeded the normality of spanning four minutes, but continued thereafter until it surpassed the single-digit maximum. I must have been five or six; my dad's stereo playing a track from a CD I can't recall. 9:37 - or somewhere near - blinked on the screen, and for that brief period, I was caught in a kind of unfathomable awe at not just the length at which sound could possibly expel in a single unitary moment, but too the fact that the sounds being offered were both progressive yet truly expressive in equal measure. In 2008, an album called Street Horrrsing, made by an electronic duo with a profanity in their name - the eyebrow-raising Fuck Buttons - offered that kind of reminiscent reminder that I'm referring to. The album's sprawling, blistering colour of noisy, drone-flanged electronica was one of the year's most refreshing but visceral records. To follow the record up a year later with Tarot Sport - the duo continuing to amaze with a (at the time) new-found presence of beats and rhythm in their sound - cemented Buttons' arrival as one measured both by their intensity as well as their quality. Four years of silence have since followed that excellent sophomore (one half Benjamin John Power exploring the intricacy of noise within post-rock on his respectful solo outing as Blanck Mass) and the roar of delight and equal excitement has been overdue and gratifyingly expectant for third-album, the tentatively-implied Slow Focus.

As we'd expected from the edited release of single The Red Wing, Fuck Buttons are no strangers to the potential and risk:reward ratio that beats and percussive synths can create, even for a sound of their attitudinal ferocity. On this album, the UK duo take a bold step into pushing their more rhythmic and tempo-driven melodies to accompany their colourful, tonal delicacy of noisy electronics. But in a way, as we come to realize, that signals the arrival of a story...and thus, a feeling of marveled scenery and narration as a result. Brainfreeze, the first of seven tracks, starts with a charismatically heavy thrust of percussion - its metallic, thick-rimmed lack of hesitance having as much the same punch and immediacy as a trash-can lid being beaten by lead piping. That metaphoric, materialistic comparison never wanes as the track quickly ascends/descends into pure noisy extroversion. Synths waver and smack against the listener's front-adjusted senses; further layers of electronics conjure even more gravitated rise-and-falls. And through the more composed (albeit still chaotically rampant) layers of rampant percussion and snarling synths, the more crystalline, pristine of electronics glisten and shoot through in harsh rays towards the listener again. But it's the snarling guitar relays thereafter that cement the track's tense atmosphere and feeling of uttermost rampancy - its low-frequency grinding and slicing through the composition almost doing battle with the high-shoots of electronics that continue to beam down on the musical chaos offered to us.

Year Of The Dog, though starting off as trying a sort of musical regeneration in its ghostly veil of  resuscitating synths soon finds itself fading behind the duo's more lucid, floor-bobbing rhythm of electronics and lured, creepy surrounding of background wanes that turn what might have once been a fairly gestural dance-floor somber to one (now more-so) as one of tense, anxious devouring. And the fact that the track never seems to clarify or confirm its interest or [sinisterly] sentient presence only makes me feel even more captivated yet, strangely, unable to let go from the piece. And as the track slowly increases in frontal intensity - synthesizers slowly climbing with bubbly, static texture, that familiar resuscitating sounds comes back to almost haunt its listener - its heavy-breath desperation to lead us through never fading...and never failing to cast a succumbing shadow over us. 


So it's with both absorbent joy and weary culpability that The Red Wing makes itself known in all its near-eight minute, unabridged, unedited form. The hip-hop styled orthodoxy of beat patterns and the attack-minded shift they take across the track is clear to see. So too, the synthesizer off-shoots that pounce from time to time suggest as much a keenness to instigate rhythm, as well as the notion Buttons' objectivity this time seems to feel rather more on the emotive and instigated vibes of their sounds, as well as that of its intensity and its deliverance. Said delivery however, doesn't in any way feel or sound compromised because of it. The shuffled, abrasive texture of guitars begin at first subterranean in their worming trickle underneath the layer of synthesizers and beats. But soon, they rise from the ground, almost overshadowing everything that once stood above it, like a great cosmic star radiating its harsh, fuzzy drone across the piece...and then, just as keenly, setting again to nestle once more in the hollow crust of Buttons' abrasive World. It's this rise-and-fall balance that gives the listeners a sense of ordered chaos; unruly elements meeting a kind of neutral agreement to which the duo greatly hold control over in both their production and their measured treating of these stereoscopic paramount of noise and sound.

For certain, there's an air of high intensity unruliness - almost profound retaliation surfacing from out these tracks. And it's clear that Fuck Buttons both want to be seen as concurrently managing such high-volume outbursts, and at the same time (perhaps as some musical or aesthetic doublethink) seek to profess the idea of control as both irrelevant and insufficient for such sounds. Sentients seems to feel more and more like the track that presents Buttons' manifesto as both a means of control and a catalyst for chaos in that respect. The metal-grated texture of percussion makes a return; the track this time showcasing more of the duo's interest in beat-driven rhythms to accompany their knob-twisting sine-wave-bobbing enthrall of electronics. But as the track evolves further and further into gelling the tone of synths with the bulky, solidity of beats, there's a feeling here that a balance is not just possible, but being met. There is of course the resurgence of encapsulating drone and mountainous overcasts of synthesizer toning, but the way the beats here are that more direct and that more sizable - almost authoritative in that objection - adds a bizarre yet quite soothing measure of stability to the duo's composition. But this isn't in anyway a sign or even a suggestion that Buttons' persistence in such manic overshoots of percussion and synthesizer sound don't excite, because they certainly do. It's a more a case that the duo find perhaps an sinister beauty; a comforting turmoil behind the quite bold and protruding character of their sounds. As if the message here is that even the most chaotic and conflicting of imagery or stances...holds within it a sense of unrivaled beauty and modesty.

That sentimental discovery of an unsentimental horde of rash sound and rasher atmospherics, carries through boldly on the following track Prince's Prize. Here, the focus once more switches to a more human-driven, industrial leverage of sequential electronic and hip-hop-fueled drum beats. But even with the throwback to societal influence, Buttons' succeed in producing even as intense a punchy, self-conflicting state of repeal and rejection even in the most self-mannered and appeasing of environments. The beats especially tend to feel painted (perhaps drenched, soaked, bled with even) of this same charismatic offense of that which it feels a part of. The rising sail of the more serene string-like layers in the latter moments add even more drama to the profoundness of the track's emotion, but even with the attention to such humane honesty, the song never seems to lose itself either physically or emotionally to this revolted stance it takes. The arpeggio of electronics continue to loop in that same concocted, industrial-like piston of motion while the crunchy, thirsted texture of percussion carries with it a level of thorough, and profoundly detailed leverage of mood the backing synths in parts push the overall piece even closer towards. Stalker is perhaps the result when the gagging, pressurized inner-build reaches breaking point and the inevitability of structural collapse - that organized chaos - soon comes to be. Buttons' drumbeats still hold that gestural, rhythmic charge beneath the surge of synthesizers. But as the piece slowly progresses - electronics gradually increasing an even heavier dose of charge and retaliation against the looming atmosphere surrounding it - the music soon finds its emotional (and perhaps most vulnerable) form taking hold. With it, the unleashing guitar drone and high-end electronics come off both lost to their mindsets, but clearly purposed into finding a state of self-destructive liberation from the World it's been shackled too.

That scorning of its environment - that desperate seeking for something more clearer, more honest, more liberating - is a theme that finally meets its climatic conclusion on closer Hidden XS - a rightful play on words of the music's own emotional clinging-on to the notion that amidst its troublesome, rampant exterior there lies a treasured essence of human-like innocence. Of course, there is no simplicity and modest holding back to Buttons' sound. What the duo do instead here is allow the raw emotional narrative of their music to take centre-stage; the chord and notational key changes of their primary guitar sounds conjure that heart-stricken, heart-tugged desperation the duo have seemingly increased in suggestion as this album has progressed. And once more, the physicality of the percussion's rampant display shows that even with this emotion, Buttons' still manage to succeed in creating that tense, anxious difficulty in finding a sort of ascended peace. It is, perhaps, the duo's most provoking and conceptualized piece to date. With it there's a clarity of context and of emotional clarity likewise with just how profound and intense Buttons seek to elevate this piece towards. And the more the track continues to remind and reinstate that structural destruction of self and identity in order to find reason and purpose in the final four/five minutes to what has been an incredible journey of freedom (perhaps, as we realize, at a dire cost), it only strengthens this raw, unhinged power the duo continue to excel at, without losing any of their original textural identity for colossal electronics with extreme delivery.

What we heard - what we felt too - in both 2008 and 2009 through their debut and the following sophomore was an open honesty in the raw intensity and power the most blurred and noisy of synthesized production can conjure even when at its most progressive and sprawled of delivery. Four years after they left the electronic scene glaring with profound conceptualizing of beats and tone, Slow Focus sees Fuck Buttons elevate themselves to the top of any and all archetypical ladders of electronic music as both a creationist means of theme as well as human being's testing of another's manner of interactivity and visaged understanding. But the best thing of all Buttons' fifty-plus minute third album, is that nowhere does this album suggest that its themes being offered - that of a frantic search for reason or purpose or even just some manner of understanding - leans itself towards being tarred with the same brush used for those records that are categorically brushed off as merely dark, moody or responsive towards something.

What this album stands as, instead, is the common and naturally explicit state all humans inject into their societal and cultural selves as individuals but also as tiny specks of life in this grand, complex, self-attacking Universe. Slow Focus - as much as previous Buttons' tracks demonstrated when being offered to the World as part of the reflective soundtrack to the 2012 Olympic games - is a vast introspective, multiverse of analytical self-reflection and self-surveillance in both its intense barrage of beats and synths, and its interjected, counter-weighing of ascended melody and emotive placement likewise. Throughout, this is an album that can be seen through both the eyes of the external spectator, as well as the eyes of the one striving for individual self-destruction from such shackled consummation. It's the sound of Middle East nations striving for freedom; it's the sound of a self-identified 99% fighting against capitalism; it's the sound too of a single individual seeking creative esteem in a World plagued with depression and austerity. This is the album that speaks, breathes and lives all such moments. Its message, from out such extremities of sound and harsh recollect of imagery, accesses the honest simplicity of human existence, and beautifully re-imagines it as the clearer flux of complex emotion and unhinged chaos the World we know is so beautifully/artistically/sinisterly composed as still being.
~Jordan

9.4

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