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Fuck Buttons, ‘Slow Focus’ – Album Review

ATP

London two-piece Fuck Buttons work in a realm of their own. Benjamin Power and Andrew Hung’s devotion to damaged electronics previously resulted in two very different albums of mental-hack computer music. While 2008’s ‘Street Horsing’ aired on the side of long-form, Black Dice-esque noise and drone excursions, 2009’s masterful and singular ‘Tarot Sport’ recalibrated for upward digital tribalism, skewing closer to techno and post-rock. Fuck Buttons’ allegiance to knob-twiddler experimentalism and bent Casio synths is clear, but unlike many of their peers, their albums have always had a higher purpose in mind.

Fuck Buttons’ latest full-length, ‘Slow Focus,’ arrives four years after ‘Tarot Sport.’ In the space between albums, Benjamin Power has been busy under his ambient Blanck Mass moniker, and a couple of ‘Tarot Sport’ tracks were even repurposed for Danny Boyle’s 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony. It’s obvious Fuck Buttons are in a very different place from where they were in 2009, but ‘Slow Focus’ makes it clear the two still have their heads stuck in a world of of their own.

In many ways, ‘Slow Focus’ is a continuation of ‘Tarot Sport,’ leaning on rhythm as much as texture and piling zig-zaggy synthesizers to the sky. But for the most part ‘Slow Focus’ reels in ‘Tarot Sport’’s penchant for big emotions and the constant, continuous build-and-release that gave the latter record its post-rock distinction. It’s almost quaint for a Fuck Buttons album, exchanging the tribal stomp of ‘Tarot Sport’ for more traditional IDM outlines. The synths are still buzzy and jagged like busted modems caught in a house fire, but it’s unclear whether melody simply isn’t the focus this time around — the emphasis is on physicality and texture — or if the duo are simply failing to reach the same heights.

Previously, the key to Fuck Buttons’ sound was that, despite its mechanical nature, there was always a beating human heart present and accounted for — whether heard in the snippets of vocals on ‘Street Horsing’ or the deep throb of melody and the handcrafted drum sounds on ‘Tarot Sport.’ ‘Slow Focus’ journeys deeper into ultra-digitized territories, and as a result much of the tension and weight that held the duo’s sound together is lost, leaving instead lifeless spools of synthesized goop. It doesn’t help that the synths themselves often feel cheap and flimsy.

The exceptions to all this are the two 10-minute behemoths that close out the record: ‘Stalker,’ which is a beautiful inversion of ‘Tarot Sport’ anthems like ‘Olympians,’ and ‘Hidden XS,’ which sounds like a Robert Fripp guitar line turned to pixelated rocket fuel.

The brunt of album fails to come together, however. On songs like ‘The Red Wing’ and ‘Sentients,’ the group aims for those big moments, but without the same jet-engine propulsion driving things, the music feels a little limp. (Though ‘The Red Wing’ does wring out some beauty in its second half.) Perhaps Power and Hung are going for something a little more ambient and less laser-guided than ‘Tarot Sport.’ (The album is called ‘Slow Focus,’ after all.) If so, there’s just not enough ambiguity or empty space for the listener to get lost in. The duo is primed for immediacy, and they wield synthesizers and noise as a part of a steadily mounting attack strategy. If sonic assault is their game, ‘Slow Focus’ doesn’t have the conviction or energy to make an impact.

6 out of 10 diffuser.fm rating

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