Album Review


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Fuck Buttons: Slow Focus
Fuck Buttons
Slow Focus
4 out of 5 star4-0

There are lots of different ideas of what a successful album should do, but typically they all boil down to some notion of harmony: a compendium of tracks, assembled so as to suggest theme or additional meaning by their arrangement, grouped together to form a product that's more than the sum of its parts. This has different applications depending on genre, yet even in the particularly outré noise world, where standards for aesthetic consistency are often especially lax, some level of coherence is still expected. There are exceptions to prove every rule, however, and for sonic explorers like Fuck Buttons, who originally moved from more-traditional noise strictures on their 2008 debut, Street Horrrsing, to something grander and more oblique on 2009's Tarot Sport, a sense of inter-song accord doesn't even enter into the equation.

Their most scattershot effort yet, Slow Focus is also their best, a commanding compendium of masterfully complex music that's bound only by a common pattern of roving restlessness. This means there's no point in attempting to measure the gulf between the thudding, industrial opener "Brainfreeze" and the garbled, guitar-inflected closer "Hidden Xs." Each track is a discrete, compartmentalized experiment abiding by its own rules, sometimes affecting slow-burn pile-ups building toward epic crescendos, sometimes starting briskly and pushing toward collapse. A group that no longer seems interested in developing anything resembling a "sound," their watchword here is variety, which means a mosaic effort that ranges far and wide stylistically.

"The Red Wing" settles into a mode of ambient hip-hop-infused tranquility at the start, a mood it sabotages as a buzzsaw effect makes way for an increasingly busy welter of sounds. "Sentients" shuttles from flanged electro pulses to sinister Vocoder yawls, eventually shifting toward a thick, overlapping stack of icy synth washes. These tracks don't play off or flow into each other, but they don't suggest jaggedness either, since the self-contained nature of each removes any expectation of parity between songs. After a few listens, a uniting feeling of subversion does emerge, something which connects Slow Focus's pieces even more than the consummate quality and intricacy that marks all seven tracks.

This means that while each self-contained song embodies a completely different style, they're all dedicated to the same general task. Each establishes a recognizable baseline, then steadily corrodes that initial familiarity as it grows more vivid and difficult. In this way, the typical Slow Focus track is a seemingly familiar genre exercise which slowly warps into something increasingly alien, taking standard modes and infecting them with unexpected tonal shifts. It's a complex approach, one whose insanely dense production quality prominently displays where the four years between albums went, and it's one that grows richer upon each listen. Beyond constructing music marked by a consummate sense of craftsmanship, Fuck Buttons continue to toy with notions of what an album should be, a natural progression for a band whose only defining quality is their refusal to settle on a definitive sound.

Label: ATP Release date: July 23, 2013

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