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Fuck Buttons : Slow Focus

Because most of the people I follow are bands, DJs, label reps or press contacts, my Twitter timeline very rarely “blows up” and when it does it’s inevitably because something completely WTF (hologram Tupac, Whitney RIP, R. Kelly duetting with Phoenix at Coachella) has happened in the music world. So when I saw the words “Fuck Buttons” repeated up and down my phone screen one evening last July, I immediately knew that the Bristol-based power electronics duo must have gotten themselves mixed up in something pretty extraordinary. Turns out two of the band’s songs – as well as one from side-project Blanck Mass – were used to soundtrack sections of the spectacular London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, prompting a collective live-Tweeted gasp of disbelief from pretty much everyone involved with the British music industry. But if the decision by the event’s creative and musical directors – film-maker Danny Boyle and UK techno rockers Underworld – to take a group who had, in terms of mainstream success, self-sabotaged their career from the very start and showcase them to an immense global audience seemed somewhat audacious, it also made perfect sense: F-Buttons (as the ever sensitive BBC re-christened them) have always made subtly epic music, the kind that would have made a fitting score for Boyle’s 2007 sci-fi thriller Sunshine, and that lends itself quite naturally to such grand occasions. Now they have several million potential new fans, and have responded accordingly. Self-produced third album Slow Focus (ATP Recordings) is aptly named because – after almost a decade making music together – it is the record that finds the more accessible elements of Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power’s electro-punk-shoegaze hybrid finally thrown into sharp relief. The fuzzy, droning synths that characterised predecessors Street Horrrsing and Tarot Sport are still a major factor, of course, but here instead of abstract scribbles flecked with strafing arpeggios and acid house bleeps and bloops the pair are painting with broader, bolder brush strokes; whereas previously pounding tribal drums would meet the relentless hiss and click of a techno rhythm track and a squalling blend of electronic and analogue noise head on, resulting in a barely controlled explosion you just had to stop and marvel at, Slow Focus is more deliberate, more composed, more cinematic. Opener “Brainfreeze” is a prime example: starting out big and proceeding to get bigger, new layers – drums, pads, bass, synths, guitars, MIDI strings, arcade electronics – are introduced with each cycle, ratcheting the tension up notch by notch and turning the moment of release into an hypnotic sustained climax, a trick Hung and Power incredibly manage to repeat again and again without it ever getting old. Things are darker this time round too. Clearly hip hop-influenced, apocalypse-embracing tracks like “Sentients” and “Stalker” lurch along on mechanised mutant boom-bap grooves, whilst “The Red Wing” (below) – a buzzing bassline snaking its way though ray-gun crossfie and a dawn chorus of robotic birdsong to a crunching, punch-drunk beat – is so malevolent (and reluctantly funky) it could easily pass for an El-P instrumental. If their first two albums conjured up a mental image of Vangelis being dragged to clubland then stumbling bleary-eyed back to the studio to cut some ecstatic avant-dance tracks, then this is the comedown: a little more sombre, a bit more subdued, but still quietly optimistic that triumph is just around the corner. Proving that even dark horses can suddenly become surprise contenders, Fuck Buttons have realised their true potential; a podium finish looks increasingly likely.

Slow Focus is out July 22; stream it – and read a track-by-track commentary from the band – over at SPIN
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About foamhands

My name is Michael Dix; I'm a decade or so past being down with the kids, but to me new music never gets old. Apparently I like music that sounds like faulty kitchen appliances and ritual slaughter; really I just like what I like, whether that happens to be indie, pop, punk, hip hop, metal, electronica, Afrobeat or jazz. Follow me on Twitter @FoamHandsBlog to receive notifications of new posts and the occasional random brain-fart, and please share links wherever you can. Enjoy!

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