Nothing on which legendary British producer Andrew Weatherall—who's been harnessing studio magic for two decades—has worked has ever sounded quite like Fuck Buttons' new sophomore album, Tarot Sport. The handiwork of Bristol-based musicians Andrew Hung and Benjamin Power, the disc embodies its title—the mystical aura of tarot with the athletic grandeur of sport—in a grandiose manner.
Whereas Fuck Buttons' debut full-length, 2008's Street Horrrsing (produced by John Cummings), amalgamates noise, drones, minimal techno beats, and the sort of tortured howling that makes Trent Reznor sound like Iron and Wine's Sam Beam, Tarot Sport ditches much of that record's audio torment and ascends to a higher plane of sonic grace. While Street Horrrsing's guiding spirits seem to be Throbbing Gristle and Reinhard Voigt (of Kompakt Records fame), Tarot Sport appears to be informed by Vangelis's magniloquent soundtracks and Gui Boratto's euphoric microhouse anthems. The latter release is more spacious, more overtly "beautiful," and vaguely more optimistic (the absence of the bedeviled voices obviously contributes to this feeling). Did any real-life events influence Fuck Buttons' sound on Tarot Sport, or did the results come from purely aesthetic decisions?
"We were able to concentrate on Tarot Sport with a great degree of focus," Hung says, "and I believe that is where the emotional directness stems from in the music."
By contrast, Street Horrrsing's "emotional directness" comes swathed in what sounds like distressed, angst-laden, and ultimately indecipherable arguments or monologues. As it happens, the vocals on the debut exist mainly to add more texture to the overall sound and convey moods rather than specific ideas.
"They're not there to help the listener along with any type of lyrical guidelines or to push the narrative into a certain realm," Power states. "They're another texture."
According to Hung, Cummings and Weatherall "were both very sensitive to the material, but there were vast differences between their working methods. With Street Horrrsing, there was a singularity attached to it, but with Tarot Sport, that singularity was turned into a multitude assault."
While a sour review in the October issue of British magazine the Wire cited Tarot Sport's "completely predictable" "rush" and disdained its "physically energizing but ultimately wearing effect so characteristic of overcompressed music," this writer finds the record to be an exhilarating listen, predictable or not (we could debate this point for hours). And if it is wearing, it's the pleasant sort of exhaustion that comes from running or biking long distances (there's that sport connection again; a track called "Olympians" doesn't hurt, either).
Fuck Buttons' sound on Tarot Sport—a vast, triumphant merging of drone, ambient, and trance-inducing, outdoor-festival techno—isn't a conscious effort to forge something unique or to find their own niche in an overcrowded soundscape, but rather is the natural outpouring of what happens when the duo collide ideas in the studio. Their monumental pieces—embodied by song titles like "Space Mountain," "Surf Solar," and "Flight of the Feathered Serpent"—don't arise from meticulous planning. When asked about their noisemaking toys and instruments, they refuse to disclose specifics. Rest assured, though, that Fuck Buttons avoid presets and in-vogue gear.
"I think you've hit the nail on the head, albeit indirectly," Hung says. "We're really not interested in occupying any spaces within social/cultural musical arenas. We're sonic nomads, wandering around and finding new sounds to quench our curiosities. That's all Fuck Buttons is, essentially: a platform for our explorations. In that way, the answer to the latter half of your question is that we don't have consistent instrumentation for that same reason; we don't like standing still."
Tarot Sport possesses an extravagant air, hinting at a certain strain of Hollywood movie scoring. Fuck Buttons wouldn't be opposed to pursuing film composition.
"We like to keep ourselves busy with different creative outlets all the time," Power relates. "We make all of our own videos and artwork, and film scoring is something we'd like to work on in the future."
As for the meaning behind the album title Tarot Sport, it seems as if it could be simply the juxtaposition of two unlikely words or a suggestion of Fuck Buttons' music being composed of oracular mysticism and physical stealth.
"Those words are particularly resonant in aesthetic for us," Hung agrees, "which is why we fundamentally used them. But, yes, the stemming of those resonances comes from the unlikely juxtaposition, just as everything we do [does]. We enjoy that space between two unlikely components."