Album of the Week: Fuck Buttons' 'Slow Focus'; Stream It With Track-by-Track Commentary

The ecstatic fuzz merchants turn on the night lights

fuck buttons
Fuck Buttons

It's been a year since Bristol's two-man ecstasy engine Fuck Buttons were hitting more TVs than Don Draper, riding chariots of fire across the globe as their anthemic "Olympians" scored the actual 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony. But third album Slow Focus is no victory lap. The band's Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power have broken swiftly from their trademark charred-Casio joy-fuzz and humid trance-out grooves, opting to conjure darker moods: a hazy gurgle of gloom-house, some quasi-industrial scuzz-grinding, and the type of synths that could score a VHS-garbled B-movie bloodfeast.

"I think our last two records were maybe somewhat a little bit more hopeful," says Power. "There’s maybe more of a loneliness and hopelessness when it comes to sentiment, at least, on the new record. The emotional palate is definitely somewhat more malevolent."

Don’t assume the shadowy changes — even closer to kindred spirits like the Haxan Cloak and Boards of Canada — are a product of bruised emotions, personal struggles, or general fucked unbuttoning, "It still doesn’t deal with an individual emotion, which is something I don't think either of us are interested in evoking," says Hung. "The music itself isn’t reflective of our states of mind at all. They’re kind of more things we’re able to indulge in as opposed to reflections. It does have more negative emotion attached to it, but we’re not negative people... At least I think we’re not."

The foggy, fang-filled Focus is their first self-produced record, and the band felt liberated without the constraints of someone else's schedule. With the extra space, Fuck Buttons stretched out (amid some breaks to play Tetris) and expanded their sound to include jittery rhythms that snake far beyond their four-on-the-floor mountaintop-raves, embracing a sound that is it at once more insular and more venomous. Below, they bring its seven tracks into some focus.

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"Brainfreeze"

Power: I think it actually feels more rock. I don’t really see it as your stereotypical electronic percussion sounds. It actually comes from more of a live sound… It’s not like we’re going for a rock sound, but the whole track needed to be massive [Laughs].

“Year of the Dog.”

Hung: That’s the only track on the record that doesn’t contain any actual drum sounds. The rhythm is coming from elsewhere. That one happened relatively quickly, didn’t it? We could have found ourselves piling and piling texture upon texture and adding beats to it, but I think we actually stepped back and realized the track worked as a minimal piece. “Brainfreeze” is a total lift-off, and as you get into “Year of the Dog” you start going somewhere a little more unknown.

“The Red Wing”

Power: It does kind of roll, and it almost seems a bit drunk. And then obviously juxtaposed with a very direct, solid riff in a way, which I think is a really nice thing. It’s maybe something we hadn’t necessarily explored before. Again, like the idea of a riff, perhaps, which is definitely something we embraced this time around.

“Sentients"

Hung: When we first wrote “Sentients,” I remember thinking, how menacing. The sound of it was so destructive and powerful. I think that was for you as well, wasn’t it?

Power: Yeah, I mean, I get a lot of black metal in that track. I think it’s probably the most harrowing track on the new record. We’ve been playing that one live, and it’s really, really fun to play live.

Hung: The reaction that we had I remember very vividly. We were quite aghast, I remember — bewilderment, I guess. So playing it out live, I would absolutely love for the audience to feel what we felt when we wrote it. I don’t know if that happens or not. If they even get a tiny glimpse of that, it would be amazing.

“Prince’s Prize.”

Hung: The interesting thing about “Prince’s Prize” is that every single component when we first wrote it was rhythmic. So it’s really, really busy. Every component was rhythmic. But we actually got all of the components nicely together. There's a regality to it, isn’t there?

“Stalker”
Power:
Prince’s Prize” and “Stalker” were actually written near the end of our writing. But they both came together quickly and relatively painlessly.

Hung: Very natural.

Power: Yeah.

“Hidden XS”

Hung: “Hidden XS” actually went through the biggest transformation out of all the tracks. It kind of evolved over the longest period of time.

Power: Yeah, even after recording and mixing it, it changed. It might even be unrecognizable from the beginning.

Hung: When we’ve written a track and we’re piecing an album together and giving it some kind of narrative, it’s always a tradition for us to discuss what mental imagery might be conjured up. We don’t really like to give away too much when it comes to this kind of thing, because it’s nice when people can tell their own story. But I mean, it always sounded like when we were listening to this album, the main [image was] to being awake from a very deep sleep or whatever. The period of time that your eyes take to being readjusted around your surroundings and you realize that you’re somewhere that maybe you don’t recognize or it’s an unwelcoming place, perhaps. That kind of idea was where the title Slow Focus came from.

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