Twin brothers' yin and yang

These New Puritans comprise twin brothers Jack (foreground) and George Barnett.
These New Puritans comprise twin brothers Jack (foreground) and George Barnett. PHOTO: INFECTIOUS MUSIC

As music aficionados mourn the passing of iconoclasts, American-born British singer-songwriter Scott Walker this week and English band Talk Talk's Mark Hollis last month, take solace in how their uncompromising artistry has influenced generation after generation of forward-thinking musicians, including the English experimental rockers These New Puritans.

The latter push themselves with each record, pulverising genre lines. A song on their fourth album gives an idea of their modus operandi.

On the waltz-like dirge, Where The Trees Are On Fire, an apocalyptic vision emerges. "This is where the trick goes wrong/The rabbit's gone, you've lost the song/This is where the trees are on fire," warns Jack Barnett, trumpet-like synths rising and falling like mist, before twin brother George's odd-stepping drums come in.

The source is a dream that Jack had: In it, he, George and a friend from school are walking near their family home in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex and the friend pointed to Two Tree Island, a small isle dredged from the Thames estuary in the 18th century, and said: "Oh, can you see those trees over there? They're on fire."

Two Tree Island has been used over time as pasture, landfill site and, now, as a verdant nature reserve - a potent image that sums up the restlessness of a band which sound ultra-futuristic and primeval at the same time, probing the recesses of time, space and humanity.

To that end, Inside The Rose marries the math-rock disjunction of their first two records, Beat Pyramid (2008) and Hidden (2010), with the fluid, post-classical leanings of Fields Of Reeds (2013). It's yin and yang, sad and sanguine, bleak and romantic.

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The title track swirls with synths that mimic strings, before a galloping beat traipses through and Jack utters: "Accelerate inside/Inside the rose/I see you change."

Change is the only constant. Anti-Gravity begins like a harbinger of a cult-like ritual or a horror massacre with a barely-there hum - no one quite knows.

"You do a great impression/Of Someone who is/Lost/Well I'm lost too/So let's get lost together," Jack intones, as the skeletal drums ride and skittle over a melody which refuses to settle into an easy groove.

Throughout, you grasp snatches of sounds (and meanings) - some familiar and cocooning, others harsh and glaring - as they intersect and meld. A female choir coos in the cavernous Beyond Black Suns. Vibraphones loop in Infinity Vibraphones, undercut by a stuttering martial beat at the end.

The centrepiece is A-R-P, a song which sounds like it could have soundtracked a Stanley Kubrick time-travelling head-trip. Escalating computer beeps are juxtaposed with thunderous booms. Jack sings in a high, breathless rasp: "Let this music be a kind of paradise/A kind of nightmare/A kind of I-don't-care/But I see you."

With bated breath, you keep your eyes wide open.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2019, with the headline 'Twin brothers' yin and yang'. Print Edition | Subscribe