“Put an ocean and a river between everything, yourself and home.” Sometimes, Matt Berninger seems to advise in The National’s “England”, you have to get a little distance between you and the things, and people, dear to you. Paul Haggis’s “Crash” was a clunky metaphor for how Los Angelenos are only brought together by traumatic collisions. Before germ theory found currency, people thought the origin of epidemics lay in ‘bad air’, or, miasma, emanating from rotting organic matter. Continue reading Miasma
My internal jury is still out on Field Music‘s new album, Plumb, but I can confirm it contains at least moments of brilliance. Presenting my first pieces of evidence: “A New Town” and “Choosing Sides“, which come in a third of the way through what is an extremely economical but fidgety LP (preview the whole thing here, thanks to NPR Music).
“A New Town” presents with us the band at its most complex. Following a reedy organ intro which sounds like the less disconsolate brother of Radiohead’s “Motion Picture Soundtrack“, we get two rhythm tracks which are panned to the extreme; periodically, watery bubbles stream between the channels. The guitar-work veers between The Durutti Column-style intricacy and St. Vincent’s chunky shredding. There are so many layers it’s a wonder the song doesn’t implode.
Betraying the Brewis brothers’ love of proggy synth-work, “Choosing Sides” begins with a lilting, hey-nonny-no keyboard-driven passage, which then leads into the song proper. There are acoustic guitars redolent of prime-time Fleetwood Mac, the drums are crisp and intricate, and the vocal harmonies are as distinguished as ever. And then, before you get too comfortable, in the final minute there is a sudden change of time signature and the song does a volte face.
But I have a lingering feeling that the throwback-feel of Plumb, with its numerous shifts in mood and style, might not sit so well with me, in aggregate, as the pastoral-concept double album of Field Music (Measure).
Plumb is released on 13th February 2012 (UK) and 14th February (US), on Memphis Industries.
- Album review: Field Music, Plumb (Memphis Industries) (Richman, S., in The Independent on Sunday, 12 February 2012)
The Brewis brothers are clearly extremely gifted musicians, who write songs (under the banner of Field Music) which are intricately arranged, structurally complex, and traditionally evoke XTC, Steely Dan and the Beach Boys. None of this makes their music particularly easy to love – though their Geordie voices are thick with region, they rarely let their emotional guards down, hence why some critics have labelled their music cold and mechanical and knowingly tricksy.
None of this can prepare me for witnessing them live – an environment which accentuates their flaws as well as their virtues. Augmented by Ian Black and Kevin Dosdale on bass and guitar respectively, the band launch into Tones of Town opener, “Give It Lose It Take It” amidst found sound, glockenspiels, rousing piano and thoroughly excellent drumming. For a few songs at least, the playfulness is plain to see, and the predominantly Sunderland-bookish crowd rewards them with a whole lotta love.
When the band cut to newer material, taken from the recent Field Music (Measure) double-album, the response is notably muted, because the band have to an extent abandoned the bucolic textures of their earlier work, in favour of a more guitar-based aesthetic that owes much more to Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac and, on occasion, Queen. However, bereft of the intense personality bestowed upon these progenitors, the songs sound strangely lurching and mathematical. Though Field Music are, individually, some of the funniest, warmest and most virtuosic musicians, the sum is sadly less than its constituent parts.
All the more infuriating is just how playful and quick-witted the band seem in between songs, where they deal with all manner of obstacles, from troublesome electricals to the bassist’s Hawaiian shirt. The Prince-meets-Sunderland funk of “Let’s Write A Book” is very much the exception to this disappointing revelation – for once, the groove is remarkably simple, and it evinces the band’s personality. For the middle chunk of the performance, songs like “Something Familiar” and “Each Time Is A New Time” are dispatched with maximum skill (replete with tasteful bluesy guitar licks) but less-than satisfactory enjoyment.
I have really loved Field Music for far too long, championing them to my friends when their chips were down. Now, after a three-year hiatus, I find it hard to empathise with their new direction which, though on record comes across as lovingly crafted and “makes sense”, doesn’t work that well on stage. Though the band pad out the pure Field Music work with excerpts from their solo albums, I left with mixed opinions of a band who I thought I had really figured out.
Back in 2007, I got very very obsessed with the sophomore album from Sunderland’s Field Music, a 30-minute progressive punk art rock odyssey into the mundanity of small-town life. In borrowing the least lifestyle elements of Steely Dan and fusing them to a jerkiness that recalled Wire, the then-trio (comprised of the two brothers Brewis, and their friend Andrew Moore) created a masterpiece that provided concise chunks of song that packed in a multitude of musical ideas – from Billy Joel-esque piano, to crisp beatboxing. Tones of Town was magnificent, and its lack of fame was nigh-upon criminal. When the band announced they were going on hiatus, I practically cried myself to sleep.
Well now, via several intriguing side projects, they’re back. And in a more expansive mood, clearly, because their forthcoming third album, entitled Field Music (Measure), is a double album, with twenty songs that aren’t afraid to be less cohesive, in a manner apparently styled after Tusk and The Beatles. Predictably, I’m very excited, especially since the band (now a four piece, sans Moore) are whetting our appetites with two choice cuts from the album.
The first, “Each Time Is A New Time”, cruises in on a liquid bassline and some pretty FM-rock guitar, backed up by typically intricate drumming. When the vocals come in, the way they harmonise and interlock is sophisticated and aurally pleasing. Halfway through, the song cuts to a stripped-down passage that builds back up with insistently mellifluous guitar figures, wordless chanting and military percussion, before breaking straight back to the original riff. And then, in true Field Music style, it’s over.
The second sample, the title track, “Measure”, explodes from a suitably baroque string arrangement into a clanging, rustling, piano-led groove. The band has not lost its knack of combining the ancient with the modern, as the vocal interplay and hand claps (which sit alongside the strings, and some very steely guitar) will testify. The mood is wistful and meandering, interspersed with occasional shouts that recall Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac. As the song fades out to looped strings and a thrumming beat, I can’t help but feel a wave of relief that the band has stretched away from the brilliant style they had previously perfected, in order to explore new ground.
Both songs are little gems, and, wonderfully, both are available for free, from the band’s charming website. Field Music (Measure) is released 16th February 2010, on Memphis Industries, and promises to be one of the year’s most intriguing albums, not only in terms of scope and scale, but also in terms of the fascinating, filigree-like music it will contain.