Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport

Originally Released October 14th 2009. Review originally published January 10th 2010.

Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power met skateboarding in Worcester and began life as a duo five years ago in Bristol, a city whose cultural and ethnic diversity has fermented both trip hop (Portishead and Tricky are residents) and drum ‘n’ bass (Roni Size won the 1997 Mercury Prize for New Forms with the Reprazent collective). Short of cash, they began buying up cheap second hand equipment and toy instruments, consciously rejecting music-by-software. Gradually their direction coalesced, and in building a reputation for sonic boundary pushing, their hallmark sound proved equally at home on either the dance floor or mosh pit. The simultaneous capitulation of the lad rock formula is timing so glorious for them that it seems pre-ordained.

Produced by acid-house veteran Andrew Wetherall, Tarot Sport is their second album, following on from last year’s Street Horrrsing, a panoramic debut which attracted heaps of critical acclaim. Released into a credibility vortex which is “Alternative” music in Britain at present, it’s had audiences force-fed on vacuous synth pop dribbling with gratitude.

Only the churlish would deny it’s got some thrills. Opener “Surf Solar” is ten minutes plus of tumbling white noise, the sound of a twenty third century riot complete with pulsing bass, a discombobulated diva, and jagged guitar frescoes. For those who believe their compositions have a messianic quality, it feels like vindication. And on their mettle, Hung and Power are Jackson Pollock in producer form, grappling with the abstract and going where the narcotics take them.

But hang on. If there’s one thing that we Brits can lay claim to with confidence, it’s being able to splice the tribal release of dance music with the cock-driven scree of rock ‘n’ roll. The heritage is there for anyone with access to YouTube to gaze at: Throbbing Gristle doing “Persuasion”, Crackdown-era Cabaret Voltaire, early Shamen, Screamadelica-era Primal Scream, The Prodigy’s Fat of The Land. All antecedents of course, and only three years ago the “New Rave” movement, led by the Klaxxons, fused new wave guitar aesthetics with hands in the air carefreeness (Again).

Listen more closely to Tarot Sport and these ghosts of British music past continue to arrow towards you from all angles. “Olympians”, with its synth fuzz pedals to the floor, echoes the post-rock of Seefeel, or at a stretch I could give you the blood-in-your-ears guitar walls of My Bloody Valentine. It’s an observation that could just as easily be made about the more epic “Space Mountain”, distortion as an instrument, a throwback prompting those lofty early-90’s pronouncements of the death of the guitars-bass-drums chassis flooding back. Sometimes the duo even misfire completely; “The Lisbon Maru” simply plods, themed around an organ wheezing for what seems like eternity before being compassionately drowned in squalls of feedback.

Given their opportunity to both experiment and tear the constipated host scene a new proverbial, it’s a surprise that this happens only once, on “Phantom Limb”. Moving closer to techno as source material, the backdrop of bleeps, whistles, and outer space clanking plays close to the glitchy vistas created by Stephen “Flying Lotus” Ellison, or put more simply, it sounds like Wall-E on Ketamin. Had they used this template to create an album full of weirdly lysergic takes on Burroughs and Manson, we would probably have been talking record of the year territory. Instead, closer “Flight of the Feathered Serpent” reverts to the duo’s default mode of kitchen sink soundscaping.

Music of course has a short memory; into the vacant slot headed six-string based immortality have stepped Leicester four piece Kasabian, whose third album West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum confounded nearly everybody – including you sense the band themselves – by delivering the hands-down listening experience of the last twelve months. Tarot Sport has received widespread critical acclaim, but it’s difficult to know whether that’s due to the sterility of what’s around Fuck Buttons as opposed to them dictating a seismic change of direction themselves. Whether there is real appetite for these comparatively alien territories to replace the devalued establishment remains to be seen. But with sales falling and no heroes yet riding into town, expect the snake-oil selling industry hypologists to continue with their next big thing agenda for the duo. Just think for yourselves before you get swept away by it.

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