Bandleader Jack Barnett has said that his intent with Hidden was to cultivate a sound that was something like "dancehall meets Steve Reich." And while any neat little algebraic formula for music is bound to go somewhat astray, it's a remarkably apt summary of the album's agenda. There's something simultaneously populist and avant-garde about it, as if Reich's "Drumming" ensemble marched offstage and started a frenzied street parade.
This two-faced quality of the record also has a historical register, in which ancient elements get vacuumed up by a Frankenstein futurism. "We Want War" sets the stage with an absolutely thunderous taiko pound augmented by syncopated digital skitter. Its brutal insistence seems to suggest that if we want war, it's because it's in our blood, coursing with primal rage. The emotional tone here bears a resemblance to Radiohead, particularly the paranoid boom-shacka of "Idioteque." But while Radiohead chart the anxieties of powerlessness faced with global disaster, These New Puritans are on the offensive, having heavily militarized their sound and aesthetic, group-chanting lyrics to songs titled "We Want War," "Fire-Power" and "Attack Music."
The album's uncompromising style can test your endurance. Sometimes Barnett's compositional prowess seems to get the better of him, rendering a track or two a bit top-heavy with baroque progressive tendencies, largely manifest as a kind of unholy alien choir sound ala Magma. For the most part though these prog elements are surprisingly well-wedded to the global militant low end, as on "Attack Music," which stitches bursting drums, bassoon and group chants into what sounds like an M.I.A. tune beamed from space. While Hidden comes front-loaded with unsettling gems like "We Want War" and "Three Thousand," it loses a bit of steam towards the end, with extra drum work-outs and orchestral compositions. Then the darkly catchy "White Chords" appears, with Barnett tossing out ominous sci-fi imagery like "I've got white chords running through my body" over mournful harmonies and breakdance beats. No accident that this number's buried towards the back end, as it's clear that Barnett's more interested in challenging listeners' expectations than soothing them with a sweet little hook.