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Fuck ButtonsSlow Focus

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  • Andrew Hung and Benjamin Power return with their third album, the first that - following past collaborations with Andrew Weatherall and John Cummings - the duo have produced themselves.
  • published
    24 Jul 2013
  • words by
    Lauren Martin
  • rating
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  • tags
    ATP
    Fuck Buttons
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Available on: ATP LP

Speaking recently of their working methods, Fuck Buttons’ Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power describe their work as not devoid of language, but work that reconsiders language’s focus: “There is a language to music but it’s not a verbal one, so maybe it has been easier for us to communicate via that language rather than actually talking.” The enduring quality of Fuck Buttons work lies in their finely tuned awareness of one another, which is what makes their third album Slow Focus a towering achievement. Having previously collaborated with John Cummings of Mogwai on Street Horrrsing and Andrew Weatherall on Tarot Sport, Hung and Power took on the engineering and production roles for the first time on Slow Focus, a move which has solidified their relationship and developed their sound into its most macabre state to date.

If one technique can be attributed to Slow Focus in its entirety, it’s in Fuck Buttons’ ability to take one or two solid riffs, pull them through a track in full, and have the listener reflect on them without losing momentum. It’s pretty much always intense, rarely overwrought, and what gives the album title its backbone. Rather than a portrait of Fuck Buttons’ time in the studio, Slow Focus is a hovering meditation on a distant, eerie landscape; a panorama with a sustained, totalising gaze that figures an expanse in perpetual decay and dis-ease.  This navigating of a non-physical space without language through layered repetition is introduced by the steady, growling drumming of ‘Brainfreeze’, which opens the album with a violent imperative. The synth lines feel positively Masonic, like an organ echoing through a mausoleum. Intermittent drops in pitch shift shrieks to drones, unsettling the rising intonations to create staggered plateaux on which sounds can linger and survey each others movements with a loaded gaze. Key sequences are agitated and drum patterns create frantic interludes that then dissolve into strands of twinkling synth lines, unavoidably reminiscent of 1980s science fiction cinema.

These layered synth lines give the drones a melodic respite at various points throughout Slow Focus, yet it’s a respite that’s either underhand or snatched. ‘Year Of The Dog’ pulls through the rumbling drama of ‘Brainfreeze’ to lead single ‘The Red Wing’ with an ominous stride, and sees melody more fully realised in its fuzzy, hip-hop breaks style. It’s remarkable that Fuck Buttons don’t use guitars, as the delicate chiming rhythm is gradually shredded through and swamped over by the kind of gargantuan drone hook that would have your average post-rock outfit whimpering in the wings, only to then melt away and allow the chimes to re-appear unscathed. By weaving these movements, Slow Focus gradually builds a momentum that reaches a stunning conclusion in its closing tracks, ‘Stalker’ and ‘Hidden XS’. Both clocking in at just over the 10 minute mark, they see Fuck Buttons take on a more ambiguous, contemplative tone.

The percussion has a softer touch, the drones are pitched higher and the arpeggios are more prevalent as the thematic core of the album becomes apparent. The horizon that is being brought into slow focus is one devoid of nature; a clouded lens lingering over cityscapes mapped as streamlined, monumental forms, space and surface feeding back on themselves infinitely. This is a cityscape devoid of subjects; any figuring of a population is diminished by the sheer force of being of its surroundings, instead muted and de-centered by the overwhelming experience of feeling claustrophobic and isolated in the same moment. Any light that manages to breaks through the mise-en-scène is clouded and dense, leaving a dull, chalky residue over what little it reaches. ‘Stalker’ and ‘Hidden XS’ close Slow Focus with studied, elegant poise, and figure Fuck Buttons as a truly special, unified talent.

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