Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus (2013)

Here it is, the third album after a 4 year hiatus from the London duo that is Andrew Hung and Benjamin Power, aka Fuck Buttons, Slow Focus.

cover

When their debut Street Horrrsing came out in 2006 it caused quite a stir; it’s not that the expletive caused any real ruckus but the music they were, correction, are producing, was surprising. Fuck Buttons have managed to bridge a gap which few people attempt and even fewer pull off well, the combination between Electronic Dance and that elusive and most fickle of genres, Noise. That being said, Tarot Sport toned down the raw tribal sounds of the debut and Slow Focus has gone even further, and while part of me kind of pangs for the abrasive cacophonies we saw in “Colours Move” for example, this new release is quite possibly their best yet.

Opener “Brainfreeze” is an intelligent and suitable introduction to this updated Fuck Buttons sound, propelling us on a bed of clear, punchy percussive beats, slowly creeping up the instrumental complexity as it layers on thick guitar drones and little electronic whines and flares. As we hit the halfway mark we hit a trough as the percussion bottoms out just to keep us on our toes, then throws us right back into the fray with a huge drop as we’re escorted out by the increasingly obvious Blanck Mass-esque drone shimmers. The opener is one of the few tracks that actually gets led out well, devolving nicely as it leads effortlessly into the watery electronic depths of “Year of the Dog”, this time quick-stepping it with synth beats as we get sucked into a whirlpool of drone washes and swirling jitters of piercing electronica of unknown origin. Slowly but surely the bpm picks up and the disorientation sets in before suddenly it all goes dark and we welcome “The Red Wing”.

Released as an edited teaser single a few weeks ago, “The Red Wing” is the first of many tracks to be introduced awkwardly by the previous; Fuck Buttons do lots of things well but seguing between ideas is not one of their strong points. Regardless, the best track of the album can’t be ruined by such a minor flaw. It epitomises their old sound clashing with the new, with those gear-grinding beats carving an abrasive path through, accompanied by delicate patters of almost trumpetal orchestration in the background, light vs. dark. At this point if your head wasn’t nodding already to the deep, deliberate bass it soon will be; those Blanck Mass drones squeal and rev up alongside those little flutters of light that duck and dive, and then it comes in, this hugely revving up glacier of  guitar drone pulverising everything. It’s huge, bold, deliberate, but never all-consuming, just vast and intoxicating, before finally closing this giant on gentle wind chimes in a bizarre juxtaposition. The edit is almost better as it delivers the hit of noise in one orgasmic swoop but the full-length is just as staggeringly emotive.

“Sentients” gradually introduces us to a progressively darker and meaner sound as it goes; the first we hear of it is a dull, heavy bassline assisted by lots of strange little alien noises zipping around the soundstage well before this. The real kicker is the surreal, coarse electronic centrepiece such that, when it arrives, much of the previous complexity is silenced by its indomitable presence. I know I said the tribal elements from prior albums had disappeared but that’s untrue, they’ve just evolved. Glittering beams of menacing drone shine down, like the landing lights to some bizarre spaceship growling its way through the atmosphere, or even welcoming a returning airplane to a runway, this weird celebration of machine’s success and our reliance upon them. Again, it shifts gear awkwardly into the relatively jovial oscillations of “Prince’s Prize”, the shortest track of the album clocking in at just 4:24. Its syncopated beat structure makes it tricky to follow but oddly compelling, sandwiching us between multiple layers of opposing beats, spinning us in the outstretched arms and smiling faces of a dense crowd. It’s short yet fun, chaotic, but it’s time to approach the first of the two closing behemoths, “Stalker”.

“Stalker” welcomes their old sound as it embraces the new, introduced on a bed of synths just like how Street Horrrsing opened and closed. Awash with wet synth beats and escalating percussion, “Stalker” has plenty of time to set the scene in its 10 minute lifespan, choosing to take a careful and calculated approach to its buildup as its namesake implies. Interestingly it doesnt really feel all that menacing until the return of the thin drones creates the Ying to the percussion’s Yang; there is something foreboding about them that I can’t place. It has a very “Olympians” feel to it at times but without the triumph and euphoria, the percussion negates that. It truly completes the dark tone this album always angled at, but with a bit more finesse and subtlety rather than relying on brash percussion.

Finally, closer “Hidden XS” takes us out; despite its 10 minute length I don’t want to dwell on it all that much because after the album we’ve come from and the giant that was “Stalker”, “Hidden XS” doesn’t really have that much left to say. Admittedly it does take a slightly different tone, with almost crooning guitar drones complimenting the well-trodden beats. I don’t know, I just thought the closer might have a little more oomph, still have something left in the tank for an epic finish, but that’s not really the case, it’s more of a disappointing marathon that refuses to end.

It’s hard to get a grasp on what Fuck Buttons are really trying to put across on this release, or any of their releases really. Slow Focus has too many abrupt terminations, too many changes in track, for my taste, but this is I think deliberate. I like to think of Slow Focus as highlighting the transition from religion to science; their previous albums spoke to us on an almost primal, subconscious level as we lavished in the exorbitant walls of raw noise, the closest thing we have to the sonification of human emotion (in my opinion), but Slow Focus chooses to rely more heavily on percussion and stronger beats, embracing the sterility and clinical logic of science over our naturally God-fearing, superstitious minds. Slow Focus is the slow, steady unravelling of the Universe’s greatest questions in our search for answers, each one peeling us further and further from God as our eyes open to the implausibility of a Creator.

It’s fucking great.

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