The Anniversary

Tarot Sport Turns 10

Fuck Buttons have a way of easing you into their world. Each of the band’s three studio albums go about this gradual introduction a little differently. On Tarot Sport, there are two minutes worth of looping whorls that calibrate you before “Surf Solar” gets a-thumping — once it does, you’re in and there’s no getting out.

The duo, made up of Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power, were around for a while before Tarot Sport came out 10 years ago today in the UK. (It came out stateside the following week.) They met at school in Bristol in 2004 and cut their teeth playing live shows that operated somewhere between a party and an existential crisis. Their debut album, the impeccable Street Horrrsing, came out in 2008. They had already been together for almost four years at that point. Street Horrrsing was produced by John Cummings, guitarist for post-rock legends Mogwai. It was restless and chaotic but also ridiculously assured, a confidence that would extend to Tarot Sport and 2013’s Slow Focus, a holy trinity of caustic electronic music.

For their masterful sophomore album, Fuck Buttons brought esteemed dance producer Andrew Weatherall into the fold after being impressed by a remix that he did of their first album’s “Sweet Love For Planet Earth.” Weatherall understood what made them tick, how their digital scrawls were extensions of the epic textural wonders that bands like like Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Explosions In The Sky, and the aforementioned Mogwai had been making. But Fuck Buttons turned the physicality of that kind of music into a rave, digitally numbing and completely overwhelming. Tarot Sport found inspiration in the predictability of dance music’s waves, isolating a pulsing beat and stretching seconds into hours into days.

Tarot Sport is impossible to categorize, a titan of noisy fabric and glitchy electronics and psychedelic haze that has a cinematic scope and no easily defined center. Fuck Buttons had a difficult enough time themselves figuring out how to contextualize their music for listeners. “The only verbal dissection we engage with our music is the evocation of the imagery it gives us,” Hung said in an interview around the time Tarot Sport came out. “We don’t have any kind of ideas of what mental imagery we want to conjure up in the writing process,” Power added. “It’s just a case of exploring the sounds with the equipment we have in front of us.”

It’s all instinctual, two musicians coming together and digging deep into sounds that they thought were cool and having the confidence to spin those out into sweeping epics that are both patient and make you want to tear at your skin. A decade on, the abrasive moments on Tarot Sport don’t sound all that abrasive once you’ve gotten used to them; they sound obvious, like the changing of the tides or the setting of the sun. Each song is made up of hypnotic layers, building in complexity until they break open.

Tarot Sport is best engaged with as a whole, but there are still individual moments that pop out: the dying gasps of “Rough Steez,” the closest the album has to an accessible, bite-size piece; “The Lisbon Maru”‘s militaristic patter; the sweeping centerpiece that is “Olympians,” bright and burning and flaming out in a vortex of smoke. The back half of the album descends into a frustration-induced sweat, a precursor to the techno-anxious music that Power would go on to make as Blanck Mass. All of the songs on Tarot Sport are inextricable from each other — it’s an album that speaks for itself, ironic because it has no words.

It’s hard to write about Fuck Buttons without sounding like an absolute dweeb. It’s difficult to get across what makes this kind of music special, this music that can evoke a different emotion in anyone who hears it. I don’t know what you see or feel when you listen to Fuck Buttons, and that’s sort of the point — it’s malleable, ever-changing. I’ve listened to it more times than I can count, typically when I need music that blocks all other sound out, and each time I find something new to appreciate in it. It can fade into the background if it needs to; it can provide the soundtrack for a final push, a breakthrough of clarity — many of my college papers was finished with Fuck Buttons guiding me along — but to sit down on your own and take the album in with no distractions is altogether entirely different.

There are hundreds of stories that feel like they’re waiting to be told through Tarot Sport, evocative scenes and characters and possibilities simmering just under the surface. It’s an album that acts as a noisy canvas onto which you can project anything. That’s what the best instrumental music can do: encourage introspection, creativity, a greater sense of purpose. Power and Hung weren’t thinking of anything specific when they crafted these songs, when they gave them titles that they felt captured some of what they were feeling. But it’s wonderful to think that, just maybe, through these few notes you might be seeing exactly what they saw when they listened back to it. Or maybe you’re making up something entirely new. Either way, listening to Tarot Sport feels both personal and word-conquering, like through some collective unconscious bullshit we might all actually be in this together.

Tags: Fuck Buttons