Fuck Buttons: Slow Focus

Fuck Buttons: Slow Focus

B+

Fuck Buttons

Album: Slow Focus
Label: ATP Recordings

Many of the first images of noise duo Fuck Buttons featured Benjamin John Power standing over a table full of electronics, the microphone from a toy cassette recorder lodged in his mouth. From the animal glare on his face it appeared that raw emotion powered the music, and the suite that opened the group’s debut album, Street Horrrsing, backed that up. Power barked hardcore vocals through that tiny microphone on the climax of “Sweet Love For Planet Earth,” and bandmate Andrew Hung hooted and screamed over a bed of live toms on the dark jungle of “Ribs Out.” 

It’s tempting to correlate the sudden prominence afforded by that album’s success with the upgrade from Fisher Price tape recorder to high-end electronic wizardry, an arc seen clearly on the group’s new album, Slow Focus. Dense layers of rich synths and expansive electronic rhythms have overtaken the charmingly ramshackle keyboard rig and malevolent vocals. Opener “Brainfreeze” embodies that shift, an electronic rhyme covering over a pounding tom figure. The buzzing synths build, shifting tectonically as an electronic beat replaces the toms, synth squiggles curling across the sky.

Rather than become bogged down by the overlapping bulk, Slow Focus indulges in precision control of its complex drones. Lead single “The Red Wing” takes its dozens of disparate elements (some noisy and abrasive, some designed for the dance floor, some built for a breakbeat) and arranges them into an approachable groove. Rather than exploring some alien world as they did on “Ribs Out,” Fuck Buttons are clearly aware of the trends and scene around them, with EDM and hip-hop having their say on the record as much as the unfamiliar noise.

Some of the primal charm of the band’s early days is gone, but replacing it with the slow-burning, masterfully orchestrated catharsis here leaves little room for complaint. Closer “Hidden XS” front-loads an icy music-box loop before a propulsive rhythm and soaring synths (reminiscent of Power’s solo work as Blanck Mass) douses things in jet fuel, resulting in several movements of build and fade over one 10-minute saga.

The use of two Fuck Buttons songs to open the 2012 Summer Olympics came as a surprise to a lot of people, but the bigger shock was that it sounded so right. Listening to Slow Focus, the growth of the group from indie-noise rabble-rousers to ceremony soundtrackers slips into the background as the massive drones wash everything away. Sophomore release Tarot Sport provided the giant leap to get to this point, but Slow Focus displays an act from a niche genre deftly handling the necessities and opportunities that come with sudden, rapid ascendance.

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