As much as first albums can capture bands in their purest form, debuts can also find them over-emulating influences, regurgitating what inspired them instead of building upon it. That was the knock against British band These New Puritans, whose 2008 debut, Beat Pyramid, had difficulty escaping the long shadow cast by Mark E. Smith of The Fall.
Two years later, Hidden still bears that influence, but These New Puritans have moved into territory more easily called their own. Although the album opens with the subdued melodies of a woodwind ensemble (the instrumental “Time Xone”), the seven-minute follow-up, “We Want War,” clubs the pleasantness with thudding percussion, an ominous melody, and disorienting, synthesized horns bouncing between the channels. A hard-hitting beat puts a period after each word of the title every time frontman Jack Barnett says “We. Want. War.”
That thundering, occasionally tribal percussion propels Hidden’s best moments (“We Want War,” “Three Thousand,” “Attack Music,” “Fire-Power”) and requires good headphones or adequate speakers to appreciate. Several instrumental passages provide a nice mood, but Hidden sags when it relents for too long. These New Puritans are still figuring out the right balance, but Hidden remains an impressive step forward.