Last time we saw them, These New Puritans were expanded. Spilling out into the far corners of the Barbican with choirs, orchestras and pianos with PhDs, the very definition of the band playing on a grand scale. Where to go from there? Well, smaller. This is These New Puritans: contracted. Although, to be fair, Oslo barely has the space for the equipment they do bring – which compared to most is substantial. But for them, in comparison, this is the very model of minimalism.
What is consistent is the impact of the performance. At the Barbican, undoubtedly in no small way dictated by the surroundings, the material flowed into grandiose, classical spaces. But here, in the more cramped confines, playing through a thick wall of smoke, These New Puritans sound more stark, more modern and even more uncompromising. Of course it’s the same band, playing (some of) the same material, yet it feels startlingly different. The opening Dream, soothing and blissful on Field Of Reeds, is more ominous here. Lit by violent strobes, the slow march of the beat and glistening shards of synth form into a backdrop upon which Elisa Rodrigues is now all but adrift.
With nary a look up, it morphs into En Papier. Harder, sharper and with a mercilessly stabbing post-punk guitar line (courtesy of longtime producer Graham Sutton). Then the stage darkens. Synths hum. A sprinkling and a twinkling of keys, and a slow, very deliberate transition as it emerges blinking into euphoric life. That track, Gloria, is one of four new songs which are played. On first listen, they appear to indicate the band plotting of a course between the sweepingly lush classicism of Field Of Reeds and the more brutal, futuristic modernity of the earlier albums. Less organic and pastoral, more alien and industrial.
Although given These New Puritans’ general artistic restlessness, the chances of these being the final configuration is slim. So the next time Juggler appears, it may well have gained a section written for a quartet of Bosnian accordions while The Grip could well be performed entirely on spoons. On this evidence, you’d give short odds on them failing to pulling it off. For the moment though, the former throbs and pulsates and is almost danceable, while the later has an urgency driven by George Barnett’s metronomic drumming, with surges of synths and squelches of bass.
While the new material intrigues, the tracks from Hidden thrill. There’s an undiminished visceral rush from the pulse-quickening dancehall horns which signify the percussive barrage that is We Want War, heavy enough to dislodge masonry, and the jerking gothic clatter of Attack Music. However, following those with Where The Trees Are On Fire is an exercise in the power of contradiction. It, along with being the best of the new songs played, is amongst the most seemingly straightforward moments. Pensive, quiet and heartbreaking – it implies should you take everything away from These New Puritans, give them the bare minimum of devices with which to make sound and noise, they can still craft something absolutely mesmerising. As remarkable as it seems, These New Puritans are only getting better. Fearless, uncategorisable, peerless.