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Music Review: F**k Buttons – Tarot Sport

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From any perspective it's clear that the institution which is British Independent Rock Music is in desperate need of saviours. Throughout 2009 it rapidly became a scene nobody wanted to be a part of, as one by one famous avatars either completed a stylistic U-turn or sailed into the teeth of disastrous record sales. Kaiser Chiefs? On a hiatus a little more permanent than they're publicly admitting. Oasis? split. And as for the Arctic Monkeys – well, they committed the ultimate sin in our island eyes – working with an American.

Suddenly then there are no captains on the bridge. And the Monkeys highly premeditated attempt to shrug off their more casual fanbase with the contrarian rockist Humbug appears, if sales are to be used as a yardstick, to have delivered in spades. As I write, it's already exited the UK Top 75 less than three months after release. For more context it's best to contrast this with Kings of Leon's Only By The Night, still riding high in the Top 20 after more than a year. Faced with evidence like this, the conclusion must be that Britain has fallen very out of love with the Kinksian/new wave crop of mid-noughties geezers, who barely eigtheen months ago seemed unconquerable.

From the industry's perspective the most attractive solution would be for Pete Doherty and Carl Barat to stop pissing about with their respective side projects and simply reform The Libertines, the act which years ago catalyzed the  retrenchment to Cool (ish) Britannia as a musical concept. And – much you assume to everyone's relief – a reunion of sorts seems inevitable at some point next year. Hopes however that the quality of their output will reach the giddy heights of the neo-classic "Up The Bracket" may though prove to be optimistic in the extreme. Doherty's Lib-less years, at least the ones spent outside of Her Majesty's pleasure, have been the definitive mixed bag, and Barat's weakling Dirty Pretty Things were deservedly ignored outside of the NME's blinkered circumference. Still charismatic then? possibly, but neither does much to inspire confidence. 

So what happened next? Well, a tidal wave of singer-songwriters continued to plague us. New, New Pop arrived in the shape of La Roux, Little Boots, and White Lies. Florence Welch reminded us of when Kate Bush was the principal British female performer of her generation. And almost imperceptibly at first, in our desperate search for something different, the oil and water of rock and dance music began to mix again. Cue Fuck Buttons.

Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power met skateboarding in Worcester and began life as a duo five years ago in Bristol, a city whose cultural and ethnic diversity has fermented both trip hop (Portishead and Tricky are residents) and drum 'n' bass (Roni Size won the 1997 Mercury Prize for New Forms with the Reprazent collective). Short of cash, they began buying up cheap second hand equipment and toy instruments, consciously rejecting music-by-software. Gradually their direction coalesced, and in building a reputation for sonic boundary pushing, their hallmark sound proved equally at home on either the dance floor or mosh pit. The simultaneous capitulation of the lad rock formula is timing so glorious for them that it seems pre-ordained.

Produced by acid-house veteran Andrew Wetherall, Tarot Sport is their second album, following on from last year's Street Horrrsing, a panoramic debut which attracted heaps of critical acclaim. And released into a credibility vortex which is "Alternative" music in Britain at present, it's had audiences force-fed on vacuous synth pop dribbling with gratitude.

Only the churlish would deny it's got some thrills. Opener "Surf Solar" is ten minutes plus of tumbling white noise, the sound of a twenty third century riot complete with pulsing bass, a discombobulated diva, and jagged guitar frescoes.  For those who believe their compositions have a messianic quality, it feels like vindication. And on their mettle, Hung and Power are Jackson Pollock in DJ form, grappling with the abstract and going where the narcotics take them.

But hang on. If there's one thing that we Brits can lay claim to with some veracity, it's being able to splice the tribal release of dance music with the cock-driven scree of rock 'n' roll. The heritage is there for anyone with access to YouTube to gaze at: Throbbing Gristle doing "Persuasion", Crackdown-era Cabaret Voltaire, early Shamen, Screamadelica-era Primal Scream, The Prodigy's Fat of The Land. All antecedents of course, and only three years ago the "New Rave" movement, led by the Klaxxons, fused new wave guitar aesthetics with hands in the air carefreeness (Again).

Listen more closely to Tarot Sport and these ghosts of British music past continue to arrow towards you from all angles. "Olympians", with its synth fuzz pedals to the floor, echoes the post-rock of Seefeel, or at a stretch I could give you the blood-in-your-ears guitar walls of My Bloody Valentine. It's an observation that could just as easily be made about the more epic "Space Mountain", distortion as an instrument, a throwback prompting those lofty early-90's pronouncements of the death of the guitars-bass-drums chassis flooding back. Sometimes the duo even misfire completely; "The Lisbon Maru" simply plods, themed around an organ wheezing for what seems like eternity before  being compassionately drowned in squalls of by-now de rigeur feedback.

Given their opportunity to experiment and tear the constipated host scene a new proverbial, it's a surprise that this happens only once, on "Phantom Limb". Moving closer to techno as source material, the backdrop of bleeps, whistles, and outer space clanking plays close to the glitchy vistas created by Stephen "Flying Lotus" Ellison, or put more simply, it sounds like Wall-E on Ketamin. Had they used this template to create an album full of weirdly lysergic takes on Burroughs and Manson, we would probably have been talking record of the year territory. Instead, closer "Flight of the Feathered Serpent" reverts to the duo's default mode of kitchen sink soundscaping.

Music of course has a short memory; into the vacant slot headed six-string based immortality have stepped Leicester four piece Kasabian, whose third album West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum confounded nearly everybody – including you sense the band themselves – by delivering the hands-down listening experience of the last twelve months. Tarot Sport has received widespread critical acclaim, but it's difficult to know whether that's due to the sterility of what's around Fuck Buttons as opposed to them dictating a seismic change of direction themselves. Whether there is real appetite for these comparatively alien territories to replace the devalued establishment remains to be seen. But with sales falling an no heroes yet riding into town, expect the snake-oil selling industry hypologists to continue with their next big thing agenda for the duo. Just think for yourselves before you get swept away by it.

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