Fuck Buttons - Slow Focus

Of all the moderately popular bands with the word “fuck” in their band name, Fucked Up is and will always be my favorite. But London’s Fuck Buttons, now three albums deep into a career that turns noise into planetarium music, do the most to earn their “fuck.” The “fuck” in Fuck Buttons’ name doesn’t remotely connote sex, and it’s not the “fuck” that you yell when you bang your toe on a door frame. Instead, the “fuck” of Fuck Buttons is the stoned, befuddled, contemplating-the-infinite sort of “fuck.” It’s the “fuck” that you say out loud when you see eyeless cave-lizards on Planet Earth, or when you exhale after watching that guy cross the Grand Canyon on a tightrope: “Fuuuuuhhck.” That’s the “fuck” you use when no other word will quite do when you’re trying to hint at the enormity of what’s going on within your brain at the exact moment when you say it. And of the duo’s three albums, the brand new Slow Focus has the highest “fuck” factor; it’s your latest soundtrack for wondering what’s on the other side of a black hole, or why people can be such dicks sometimes.

When Fuck Buttons released Street Horrrsing in 2008, it felt like a revelation, like one of the drone-scrape warehouse-noise groups from the No Fun Fest scene had suddenly figured out how to twinkle and flutter, to find some pleasure within all the punishment. The 2009 follow-up Tarot Sport almost dropped the idea of catharsis completely, roping in early-rave traveler Andrew Weatherall to produce and cranking out sunny globs of psychedelic fizz. Since then, it’s been four years of touring and side projects and random Olympic opening-ceremony song-placements. And now Slow Focus feels like the best parts of those last two albums — the ominous grind of Street Horrrsing, the dazed psychedelia of Tarot Sport — fusing together into something dark and grand and mysterious, but also precise and efficient. The two members of Fuck Buttons produced the album themselves, working in a room together until they’d perfected their titanic tribal wobbles. And they clearly understand how their sound works better than anyone else — when to bury a lonely feedback wail deep in the mix, when to make a bass-roar sound like the loudest thing that ever happened, when to gradually dial up the dramatic sci-fi theremins.

Slow Focus works patiently, its seven tracks unspooling gradually over almost an hour, and it never takes solace in anything as simple and comforting as an actual human vocal, at least one that you can recognize as such. And it doesn’t sit comfortably under any one genre designation. Individual moments might sound like dance, or krautrock, or industrial, or drone, or noise, or fearfully foreboding post-rock, but all those things seem to specific and earthbound for anything as sweepingly nebulous as this. You have to reach further to describe it. Parts of the album sound like Yeezus, minus rapping and bravado. Parts of it sound like Daft Punk’s “Contact,” if the astronaut whose voice they’d sampled had seen something terrible and angry and impossible. Parts of it sound like Goblin’s soundtrack to an unmade Argento movie about the invasion from the dimension of killer robot ants. Parts of it sound like the fearsome god Dubstep, rising from the earth’s crust to wreak vengeance on the false pretenders to His name. When the album is on, it’s hard to even focus on what the individual elements of the track are doing, or which other artists the duo might be pulling inspiration from. It simply is. And that’s why it’s some of the finest bad-mood music anyone has made in quite some time.

Slow Focus is out now on ATP Recordings.

Other albums of note out this week:

• Weekend’s assured, streamlined, huge-sounding sophomore effort Jinx.
• The Love Language’s euphorically packed-to-bursting indie-popper Ruby Red.
• Gogol Bordello’s spirited, urgently cosmopolitan Pure Vida Conspiracy.
• Former Hüsker Dü co-leader Grant Hart’s solo outing The Argument.
• Hunx & His Punx’ charming queercore-revival bow Street Punk.
• Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes’ self-titled LP.
• Will Oldham collaborator’s the Cairo Gang’s mystical jangle-folk mini-album Tiny Rebels.
• Black Tusk’s fiery sludge metal Tend No Wounds EP.

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Comments (27)
  1. Finally! Somebody properly breaks down the meaning of “fuck” in band names. I came to a similar realization when listening to Holy Fuck and Fuck Buttons. When they get going, it’s a wide-eyed “fuuuuuhck” for the latter (MAD PROPS for the Planet Earth reference. My go-to visuals for most music) and a very appropriate “HOLY FUCK!” for the former.

    I still think “Tarot Sport” is the superior of their three albums. That’s not a dig on “Slow Focus” but rather a reminder why these two were able to take a FOUR year break between albums. Gave everybody an opportunity to hear what they were missing (I’M LOOKING AT YOU QUEEN OF ENGLAND!)

    Firstly, I feel the shorter tracks are actually some of the best tracks here. What in the hell is going on during “Year of the Dog” ? Feels like some interstellar ascension transporting me to the proper plane of existence where “The Red Wing” pummels me over and over again like a Valyrian steel blade.

    But then FB flip the template that worked so well on their first two albums. Instead of putting their juiciest long-bombs in the center of their album (“The Lisbon Maru” / “Olympians” & “Okay, Let’s Talk About Magic” / “Race You To My Bedroom – Spirit Rise” {God, they rule at song names}) they instead opt to save their big hitters for the end.

    “Sentients” feels cut off. Like they took it as long as they wanted and faded it down. It still feels like a missed opportunity to me. But again, with the shorter tracks, “Prince’s Pass” comes back in to get us all on board. This is a good thing, because “Stalker” comes next.

    I feel “Stalker” could’ve closed out this album. It’s that great and IMO the climax of the album. That’s not a knock on “Hidden XS” because it’s one of your classic fade-out the comedown sort of last tracks. I love it too, but it’s a far cry from their previous apocalyptic album closer “Flight of the Feathered Serpent” with its maelstrom drum whirlwind.

    Of course, I get my badass FB drumming right off the top with “Brainfreeze” so maybe that track is picking up where “Tarot Sport” left off. And it’s on that opening track that you realize one of the best elements at play here, that Tom touched on above, and that’s their self-production. YOU MUST hear this album in headphones. YOU MUST! There is some gorgeous techniques going on here and it’s really the best part of the whole album.

    Still, a phenomenal album. As I said in a conversation last night, Fuck Buttons making good songs is still better than most bands making great songs. These aren’t complaints, just being critical on a band I love oh so much. Plus, it looks like they’re playing a show in NYC during CMJ! Because their live shows are the end all do all when it comes to a wide-eyed, slack-jawed, “ffffffuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuccckkk”

    tl;dr Headphones up!

    • I went for the “tl;dr” version of your post, and your thoughts captured my realization of this album as well: Headphones up if you want to hear every squirrel of noise in high-def.

      • Just got a nice set of over ear headphones and how much better music sounds while wearing them, it’s almost like I am listening to a completely different song with them on as opposed to not.

    • you know, I really quite like this album, but I don’t think I could differentiate this much between tracks if I tried

    • +1 for using “Valyrian”

  2. This should have been the soundtrack to Conan The Barbarian (To be taken as a sincere compliment).
    Great album…music for the senses.

  3. This is definitely the album of the week. What week? The month. I’m still amazed by Fuck Buttons and their talent to make music with significance, where hundreds of musicians are still making the same. “Slow Focus” is the duo saying with humility “here we are and we are doing it amazing, without dubstep, special guests or NSFW videos. Fuck Buttons just follow their original mission: to expand the music range.

    “Brainfreeze” and “Sentients” are my favorites in a flawless album. You just can’t complain because some songs are long. Every second here counts.

  4. Imagine The Holy Fuck Buttons. Holy Fuck backing up Fuck Buttons for a live show. Although, I’m not sure the foundations of space and time are strong enough for such an event…

    • It could work! They both use Casios and other odd ball instruments on stage. Holy Fuck are an amazing live show as well! It’s been three long years since “Latin” graced us. I wouldn’t mind a Holy Fuck album later this year.

      As for the Holy Fuck Buttons, sign me up for two tickets!

      (Isn’t there a “fuck” festival in Europe that consolidates all the Fuck bands into one fest?)

  5. I’ve never really delved into these guys, but “Yeezus minus the rapping and bravado” sounds pretty good to me.

    • “Slow Focus” is as good of an introduction as anything.

      If you like it, you are required to listen to “Tarot Sport” or else I will hunt you down.

  6. Didn’t realize Weekend came out this week too. I haven’t gotten around to hearing it, but I LOVED “Sports” so I’m curious as to what “Jinx” sounds like.

    Anybody heard it and have thoughts on it yet?

  7. I really dug this album, though Fuck Buttons can do no wrong in my book. It felt closer to Street Horrrsing than Tarot Sport to me, if a choice had to be made. Tarot is still my favorite just because of the optimistic epicness I feel when I listen to it. This one comes off a bit darker and heavier. I can tell this one is a grower already. Great writeups by raptor and tom.

  8. pretty sure they’re from bristol, not london. i remember getting needlessly excited finding out they were from close by when i heard their first album.

  9. Really digging the Fuck Buttons album, but Weekend’s Jinx is my pick of the week. Possibly my album of the year as well. These guys are severely under appreciated.

  10. My personal favorites holy fuck for fuck band names

  11. I have nothing constructive to add other than I love the fuck out of this album. I can’t believe it’s been four years since Tarot Sport. Gave me vibes of Street Horrrsing, but that’s not a bad thing. I just hope it isn’t another four years until I get my next Fuck Buttons fix. Welcome back!

  12. OK SO I went to the record store before work to get Fuck Buttons & Weekend on vinyl. Fuck Buttons was back-ordered but the clerk said they did have Weekend. I’m glad he found it for me because the record cover going around on the Internet is NOT the same as what I found:

    WTF?! That’s a heavy ass album cover! Even for someone named raptor jesus.

    So I don’t have a record player in my car, so I’ve STILL yet to listen to it. Needless to say I’m at a fever pitch to get home and hear it. Based on the above comments and the record store guy’s high praise of the album, combined with my LOVE of “Sports”, I’m getting a REALLY good feeling about this record. I’ll come back and update my first listen later.

    • What a great album!

      It definitely sounds like a band ready to make a leap to something bigger. Their live show was already a blast, but I can only see these songs making it even better.

      I listened to it on vinyl last night, then used the download code to burn a CD and take it for a night drive. Seeing as how “Just Drive” is the last track on the album, my second spin proved to be even more rewarding. I have a feeling I won’t pop this out of my car for awhile. The download had a bonus cut “Siobahn” that fits in quite nicely and could’ve been on the album.

      The p4k review made some good points, but fuck that score. This album is a winner and a great listen top to bottom. I highly recommend getting some listens in between now and next week before July ends. I dunno, I’m corny and like listening to a catchy song named “July” in July. Forever a nerd…

      For a band that has their aesthetic figure out, it’s refreshing that after only a few listens each song is quite distinguishable from the next. Each track finds a way to be unique and that can be a difficult task to achieve some times.

      If I had to pick an early favorite track… I guess for now I’ll choose “Celebration, FL” for the 1:00 mark drum drop that sucks you right back into the album in case you drifted away after the first three tracks.

      Great Job Weekend!

      • snarfblat  |   Posted on Jul 26th, 2013 +1

        I’m definitely all about “Rosaries” right now, though the whole album just simply rules. I’ve not heard an album sound so much like what should have been Catherine Wheel’s follow up to ‘Adam & Eve’ while still being an album that came out in 2013 by a completely different, equally awesome band. I’ll be listening to this one for years to come.

  13. Just stopped by to say that yes, yes, ‘Slow Focus’ is a fine choice (although I’ll go ahead and echo the consensus: I prefer ‘Tarot Sport’), but HOLY HELL CAN WE PLEASE TALK ABOUT THE WEEKEND’S ALBUM?

    It has thoroughly blown my mind. I can barely piece together my thoughts. So much so that I HAD TO RESORT TO ALL CAPS TWICE IN THE COURSE OF A SINGLE COMMENT.

    • I see it’s been addressed. My apologies.

      Carry on, then.

      • Not enough apparently!

        Meet back here tomorrow, I’ll be ready to hash out my thoughts. Got the vinyl staring back at me at work. Still haven’t heard a track off of it. I appreciate all the commenters gushing about it because it’s making me very, very excited.

  14. It’s time for my first serious comment.

    I thought some songs on “jinx” gave off a really cool post-Psychocandy JAMC vibes. Super impressed.

  15. Yay! New Fuck Buttons! Tarot Sport is my jam!

    I remember getting a copy of Street Horsing from a friend a few years ago and just not getting it. Then I heard “Olympians” at random last year (probably had something to do with the London Olympics) and was all “what is this glorious pile of noise and where can I get more?”. So yeah, kind of excited.

  16. I feel like the mood on this one is in line with where electronic indie-music is right now. Tarot Sports was more out of the blue.

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