Exclaim!'s Best of 2013: Top 20 Pop & Rock Albums, Part One

20. These New Puritans
Field of Reeds

What with the labels broke, the critics in crises and listeners increasingly impatient, it's hard to believe the world has kept a niche, or at least a habitable squat, for These New Puritans. And yet, with favours from a few admirers, the British savants have made a rich, expansive third album, and it's a masterpiece.

While the immaculate production and weaving structures have an immersive quality, Field of Reeds is less a record of depth than of height, an alpine trek encompassing tall views of such clarity and intensity that the listener is not quite a listener but a fellow traveller. Jack Barnett's vocals are reluctant guides, the verses narrow valleys. The crescendos — for there are no choruses — represent summits that both captivate and confound.

Key is its centrepiece, the fifteen-minute brace of "The Light in Your Name" and "V (Island Song)." Throughout, Barnett's vocal, a shaky sing-speak that seems in awe of its blanketing folds of music: careening drums, resonant piano and mournful brass that evoke kingdoms falling.

There follow collisions of country and metropolitan imagery, beside unsettled passages that drift in aural purgatory, woodwind and lyrics grasping for a spiritual rhythm. When the title track arrives, an elegiac finale with ambiguous tones of redemption, the record rises from its own ashes and plants in the listener a renewed sense of physicality, of the interconnectedness of everything — along with an irrepressible desire to return to the beginning. (Jazz Monroe)