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  • Filed under: Review
  • 07/22/2013

Fuck Buttons Slow Focus

Fuck Buttons is a noise band to the same extent that Tortoise is a jazz ensemble. The label sounds vaguely right, but it's only capable of describing the most superficial aspects of the self-contained, highly coherent music made by Benjamin John Power and Andrew Hung. The London duo doesn't make a secret of its epic ambitions, as Fuck Buttons conveys a sense of high drama that is distinctly absent from the labyrinthine underground world of, say, Prurient; it's telling that two cuts from the pair's previous album, Tarot Sport, and one from Powers' solo project Blanck Mass were used to soundtrack the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics. Fuck Buttons' appeal tracks back to Mogwai's slow builds rather than Merzbow's anarchy, and the group's debt to post-rock is fully apparent on its third LP, Slow Focus, itself a collection of fuzzy, heaving tunes that comes across like a sustained endorphin rush. The music here is either all climax or a climax that's constantly alluded to but never delivered—it's a weird loop, as if the duo is building up to something it has already achieved. Still, it's not as frustrating as it may sound; despite all the tension, the sky never cracks open, the music referencing rapture but sparing us the specifics.

The seven selections on Slow Focus never stray from their core themes—the songs keep only a couple of things in the air at any given time. These tracks orbit around the push of meaty percussion and a few notes of melody—they're flapping, microKORG-summoned mirages with impressive wingspans. Noise and jazz require listening styles of their own, namely an allotment of patience as improvisers stray through soggy ideas before grasping a thread and eventually snapping the materials into temporary shapes. With the booming floor toms and swarming dentist-drill synths of album opener "Brainfreeze," it's clear that Fuck Buttons has preassembled the songs' meanings. But the group's conviction typically restores whatever excitement predictability takes away. That said, not much happens in "Brainfreeze"'s last seven minutes that doesn't happen in its first two. Some incidental sounds come along to reinforce the mental image of a tribal summoning. The synth and drums drop out and claw their way back in. In other words, nothing too consequential or challenging unfolds in the course of the song, and yet it's not tedious. The appeal is unwavering and right there—of course Fuck Buttons is a popular festival band.

The foreboding arpeggios of the following "Year of the Dog"—and every subsequent track, for that matter—sustains the feeling of being swept up in one long and tireless event. Post-rock, after all, is the exercise of restraint in some areas in order to be unabashedly emotional in others. Power and Hung make music like one long tracking shot, measuredly scanning across landscapes without telling us what in particular we should be looking at—it seems the measured movement itself is what we're supposed to be enjoying. The longer tracks, including the 20-minute closing suite of "Stalker" and "Hidden XS," don't cover any more ground than the shorter ones; likewise, the album doesn't put on any airs about being greater than the sum of its parts. Fuck Buttons has cherry-picked a few influences from the past 10 years and made them into a science. Slow Focus has the sheen and seemingly high stakes of a blockbuster movie—and enough easy thrills to compensate for the stakes being, in reality, pretty low.

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