SONIC REDUCER Bend an ear toward Fuck Buttons' ecstatic second album, Tarot Sport (ATP), and you're only a card flip away from shuffling the Rider-Waite deck of the mind and coming up with visual corollaries for the tracks. Frenetic opener "Surf Solar" obviously boogie-boards to the freedom-first of the major arcana's card zero, the Fool, whereas "Rough Steez" burrows into the deep 'n' dirty low end of the Tower card, and "The Lisbon Maru" cozies down amid warmly glimmering Doppler synths, akin to the Sun image. The glorious polyrhythmic cluster-fuck of "Phantom Limb" sparkles hard, reading just like the Star, while finale "Flight of the Feathered Serpent" breaks into a mind-expanding, all-encompassing loop, à la the closing picture of the major arcana: a baton-twirling cosmic cheerleader dancing within a circle of completion, or the World. Bring it on.
The tarot of sport see the Vangelis shout-out of "Olympians" or the sport of tarot did inform the album, says Fuck Buttons' Benjamin John Power, by phone from D.C. "We're both kind of interested in the mystical world in some way," he confesses, referring to bandmate Andrew Hung. But perhaps I'm reading too hard between the cards. Power and Hung didn't quite rifle through the deck and riff off those airy swords, energetic wands, emotional cups, and earthy pentacles. Rather, they were both intrigued by the idea of formalized competition between psychics, which Hung had been reading about. "I mean, first and foremost, the words themselves were quite resonant for us," Hung says. "They struck a chord and it's quite a funny concept."
Battling psychics might conjure thoughts of Criss Angel mind-freaking the ladies of the Psychic Friends Network in Paranormal Activity's haunted townhouse, crystals and dowsing rods in fists. But the notion also plugs into Fuck Buttons' music-making process as well as the image of Hung and Power hunched diligently over their gadgets, pedals, and toy instruments at their packed, steamy Independent show last year. The hardcore-schooled Power is more serious. Hung, who has an electronic music background, is more puckish and playful. ("We're based in a car right now," he jokes when asked where the two 27-year-olds live. Ask him what a Fuck Button is, and he quips, "I guess you're talking to one.")
The Bristol, England, natives started playing together in 2004. "When we converged at the same point, that's when things started to get quite loud," says Hung. Fuck Buttons' writing process hinges on a similar sense of give-and-take. "We've always written songs the same way," explains Power. "We'll get together in a room and it's quite important that we don't have any ideas brought in, that we approach it like a blank canvas. We're both messing around with sound together it's been very free in that sense."
The beat-driven, less aggro sound of Tarot Sport, informed by the more ambitious musicians once confined to the New Age aisle, was the direct result of the twosome's new equipment acquisitions various analog synths, pedals, and "bips and bobs," as Power puts it since their debut, Street Horrrsing (ATP, 2008). "The sounds are quite a lot richer on this record because we had a lot more stuff to play with," notes Power. "One particular thing that did happen was we got rid of our laptop. When a lot of people see a laptop onstage, they assume you're a laptop band and just playing things off your laptop, which isn't the case at all."
That's where the psychic ability comes in very handy, though Fuck Buttons don't cop to those powers or even a good grasp of the Vulcan mind meld. "We're definitely working on that one," Power deadpans.