INDUSTRIAL PRECISION FOCUS
For a group that has a blatant curse word in their name, F*ck Buttons did the unthinkable and had their tracks off sophomore Tarot Sport – ‘Surf Solar’ and ‘Olympians’ – featured during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics (thanks to director Danny Boyle’s good taste). You’d think that opened up commercial opportunities for Hung and Power, it probably did, but that didn’t affect them one bit. Latest album Slow Focus is the duo at the height of their musicianship – a name that’s reflective of their career, it took them a languid pace from 2008’s disjointed Street Horrsing to the sheer focus of this album.
Self-produced entirely by the two of them, Slow Focus took the DIY approach of their debut and combined it with the production values of Andrew Weatherall’s tinkering of their sophomore Tarot Sport. What came out of that is a sound that’s abrasive noise and industrial’s equivalent of stadium EDM – its synths warped and steel-on-steel piercing to the ears while the drum patterns are beefy and construction loud, all maximised to stretch a soundscape miles long while remaining polished.
While raves can cause MDMA-induced euphoria aided by pulsing dance music, Slow Focus is an ominous end-of-the-world gathering that will have paranoia slowly creeping up onto you. It’s as if John Carpenter and Vangelis decided to collaborate and do dance – more dystopian warehouse rave held in Blade Runner’s version of Los Angeles than the real-life Tomorrowland. As such, the charging drums of Slow Focus’ opening track alone ‘Brainfreeze’ – which is nearly 9 minutes long – declares the album’s intent; Hung and Power ain’t about being soft. Even at their most effervescent, such as that on the previously released ‘The Red Wing’ (which was cut in half in preview form), the duo doesn’t relent on the aggression.
Here in all its glory, the track initially lulls us into familiarity with its off-kilter hip hop beat at the beginning, but then the maximised analogues come in and all hope was lost, only to be regained triumphantly by the layered freeform jazz-esque guitar sounds and piercing synths. As sinisterly grandiose as the album is, it turns out F*ck Buttons doesn’t just do despair and paranoia. End track ‘Hidden Xs’ is the same in its curious dichotomy of tenderness and abrasion, but here, Hung and Power are at their most accessible (naturally it’s more indebted to post rock than noise). The song’s hip hop drums and elegiacally epic guitar solo sound almost cathartic – after imbuing us with dread, F*ck Buttons see it fit to excise us of it. With the penultimate song, ‘Stalker’, which emotionally sounds like the proper soundtrack to Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, being the most ominous piece of electronic music we ever heard in recent years, ‘Hidden Xs’ fittingly ends the album with our souls saved from unrelenting menace.
Even then, Slow Focus’ greatest achievement isn’t the mood it manages to create and direct to their audience. Instead, it is the fact that for all the slow-burn dread and terror of this album, Hung and Power successfully took their Olympics cred and made their most polished album to date – without necessitating any sacrifices to their artistry.
LISTEN TO: ‘Stalker’, ‘Hidden Xs’
IF YOU LIKE THIS YOU’LL DIG: El-P’s instrumentals, John Carpenter, Vangelis, Blanck Mass
2. Year of the Dog
3. The Red Wing
5. Prince’s Prize
7. Hidden Xs