fuck-buttons1[xrr rating=4.0/5]There’s an argument made in rock purist circles that electronic music sounds “too perfect” or “too spot-on” because it lacks the subtle nuances of chance that human technique with an instrument can bring. There are no strings for fingers to dance across or improvised timings in percussion. The amount of alcohol consumed before the recording session has no direct effect on a clutch of digital notes pre-plotted on a digital audio workstation. It’s a well-considered argument but as Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power demonstrate with ease on Slow Focus, it’s also complete horseshit. Music is as improvised or as nuanced as an artist or producer desires to make it regardless of which tools he or she deploys. The way the simple and repetitive experimental breakbeat of “The Red Wing” evolves into a storm of ringing, whistling emotion without you even noticing you’ve suddenly accelerated well past the speed limit is testament to a great track. The fact that this happens a few times is testament to a record worth noting. It’s also exciting and dangerous.

Slow Focus is dramatically performed rock record, using loops, keyboards and synths, the details of which are as thoughtful as they are plentiful. Sure it’s just two electronic music producers from Bristol but it’s rare to find works of samples and keys which give rise to a sound as monstrous as this. Parts of this record writhe and quake like the best thousand-layered melancholic loops of a My Bloody Valentine track while others are simpler but still haunting percussion experiments.

“Brainfreeze” sets the overall scope of the record with a repeating loop of furiously abused tom tom drums. The filtered snap of a snare is added deep in the mix while fuzzed out synths boil through the remaining eight minutes of soaring melancholia. The song has an overall uplifting and almost cinematic energy to it until the halfway mark where it all falls away, giving the listener a chance to soak it in. Then it rises again. The duo chose to rebuild the song with different patterns of the same samples and it takes proceedings in a pleasing new direction. This is the point which sets it apart from mere ‘electronic music’ records. The slow down and the subsequent rebuild are naval-gazing noise rock at its best with nary the sound of a single guitar. Who needs it? There’s enough going on in this track to keep your music brain unpacking it through many repeat fist-pumping, head-hidden-behind-your-bangs iterations.

At only seven tracks you might feel it generous to call this a full length record until you realize just how much meat hangs from its broken beat bones. While “Prince’s Prize” takes a break from the high bar set so far, “Stalker” sneaks right in behind it at a full 10 minutes of booming bass thuds, deep and harrowing synth tones that flicker and flare in slow arpeggios. Just as you relax into that, they up the ante for the last three minutes with some heavy distorted chords that unsettle the soul. This could be the grand finale but it isn’t. “Hidden XS” gives you another 10 minute flurry of quavering rock notes which swirl around beautifully until any remaining emotional visibility has been obscured.

Fuck Buttons was a name originally intended as the moniker for a band which wanted to sound at once playful and childlike but still “abrasive.” Playtime on this sophomore LP is clearly over and what might have been abrasive has matured into pleasingly gritty. This record may and probably should open them to an entire new audience — particularly those of the Kevin Shields and shoegazer variety.

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