2009 sophomore album from the British Experimental duo, produced by Andrew Weatherall. With Tarot Sport, all the indications are that Fuck Buttons are gonna follow in the footsteps of the likes of Animal Collective and have one massive crossover album on their hands. The album is one of unbound possibility and lucid cohesion; a cerebral pilgrimage that refines, crafts, explores and develops the experimental aesthetic of last year's critically acclaimed debut, Street Horrrsing. Tarot Sport takes things to another level through a combination of their own ambitious aims and the application of Weatherall's clear-sighted, rule-defying precision and attention to sonic detail. The seven tracks on the album reflect a new-found complexity of sound that Fuck Buttons immersed themselves in, strived for and achieved with startling results.
Review by Heather Phares
Fuck Buttons' Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power can't be accused of repeating themselves on Tarot Sport. Post-rock, noise, and electronics lived in perfect (dis)harmony on their debut, Street Horrrsing, but here the duo channel their intensity in a focused, rather than explosive, way. Hung and Power drafted Andrew Weatherall, who remixed Street Horrrsing's "Sweet Love for Planet Earth," to produce Tarot Sport; while the album is more overtly electronic than Fuck Buttons' previous music, Weatherall's influence is felt more in Tarot Sport's precision. Laser-guided beats and drones propel these songs on linear trajectories, most strikingly on the opening track "Surf Solar," which shoots listeners into space with a sleekly pumping four-on-the-floor beat and sparkling electronics that give the impression of stars streaking by. The track is so aerodynamic that it doesn't get truly combustive until two-thirds of the way through -- an approach Tarot Sport repeats often, and a markedly different one from the duo's debut. Not knowing when or whether Fuck Buttons were going to drape listeners' ears with celestial drones or assault them with demonic, Wolf Eyes-style shrieks was a significant part of Street Horrrsing's thrill. While it was probably a smart move on Hung and Power's part to not try to recapture that tension, occasionally it's missed. However, Tarot Sport may actually succeed the most when Fuck Buttons make the biggest departures from their debut's territory. "Olympians"' euphoric loops have a heady, heavenly quality all their own, while "The Lisbon Maru" is the musical equivalent of a wide plain: vast and majestic, even if the scenery doesn't change much. When Fuck Buttons revisit their dark side, they make it count, and they make it fit the rest of Tarot Sport's aesthetic. "Rough Steez" turns their first album's evil drum circles into something metallic and automatic, with pistons and pinions pumping and creaking. "Phantom Limb"'s writhing layers of dripping electronics don't just sound like music for aliens, they sound like music for Aliens. Hung and Power unite the album's often polarized sounds on the finale "Flight of the Feathered Serpent," which balances its elongated organ drones with flashy drums worthy of Carnaval. A more hypnotic and lulling ride overall, Tarot Sport may lack some of Street Horrrsing's pure visceral impact, but it's just as satisfying on its own terms, as well as an impressive step forward for Fuck Buttons.
Like any noise group, Fuck Buttons rely on a certain amount of vulgarity and aggression. While they've always possessed a knack for melody that has, for their genre, provided their music with an accessible edge, listeners unaccustomed to blood-curdling screams and metal-scraping drones have had their work cut out for them when searching for the more delicate moments that helped make last year's Street Horrrsing such a stunning listen.
Tarot Sport represents a subtler, more mature approach to songwriting and a sharpening of their craft. But moreso, it marks a comprehensive stylistic shift for the duo's sound, from experimental noise with a buried pop sensibility to a sort of modernized electronic take on classic post-rock structures. And impressively, they've made these changes without sacrificing any of the genre-straddling adventurousness that made them intriguing in the first place.
Perhaps the best way to think about their transformation is to consider how the new material relates to post-rock groups like Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The band has always had an inclination toward sweeping epics (see: "Sweet Love for Planet Earth"), but instead of using scale as a canvas for brutality/delicacy contrasts, here they repurpose the post-rock format as a digital soundscape. Gone are the shrieks and wailing guitar chords that populated Street Horrrsing; instead these songs are built almost wholly with synth and keyboard textures that originate in dance music.
Aiding the shift is producer Andrew Weatherall, who has a long history of infusing rock with dancefloor bounce and drawing the best from his groups. (His helming of Primal Scream's epochal Screamadelica and his remix work with My Bloody Valentine are prime examples.) From the chugging drumbeat of opener "Surf Solar" to the chipped-up electro backdrop of finale "Flight of the Feathered Serpent", the dynamics and textures of techno are the foundation of the record, making a direct link between Tarot and Weatherall's earlier boundary-defying productions.
All of which is prologue to Tarot Sport's actual songs, which by and large are pretty freaking incredible. There's a cinematic, storytelling quality to the music, and the climactic builds of longer pieces such as "The Lisbon Maru"-- with its militaristic drumbeat and huge synth melodies-- conjure the excitement of an oversized movie sequence. "Surf Solar", extended from the clipped-length radio edit that emerged online last month, is anxious and menacing by comparison but hits those notes without the histrionics of Fuck Buttons' previous work-- the band seems just too confident here to rely on screeches to get its point across.
Fuck Buttons also master shorter pieces that shift and redirect the record's momentum. Close in spirit to the tribal romp of "Ribs Out" from Street Horrrsing-- but ultimately more listenable and imaginative-- "Rough Steez" envisions industrial techno as locomotive skronk. And "Phantom Limb" recalls genre-benders like Liquid Liquid and Gang Gang Dance with its cavernous atmosphere and snaky, complex arrangement. When the band returns to widescreen emotiveness for the triumphant closer "Flight of the Feathered Serpent", it feels like a victory lap-- the capper on a record that is a hell of a lot easier to like than even fans of Street Horrrsing would have expected. That was a great record, but Tarot Sport is a cut above. Perhaps surprisingly, it's also a welcoming album-- and one of the best of this already fruitful year.
— Joe Colly, October 23, 2009