An endlessly evolving collage, 'Abbey Road'-style
Towards the tail end of last year, having read a piece in The Guardian about the modern trend for hyped indie bands’ popularity to nosedive after the initial bout of attention has faded ([a]Glasvegas[/a], [a]MGMT[/a], [a]Klaxons[/a]), [a]Field Music[/a] were moved to respond. “We can function independently from the music industry,” they blogged. “Partly due to geographical isolation and partly due to the principles we’ve determinedly stuck to.”
This was not your standard, holier-than-thou, indie rhetoric. Field Music do everything themselves. For seven years, they’ve been slowly expanding – in terms of both audience and their palette of complex-yet-direct arrangements and polished harmonies – from 2005’s self-titled debut. Their second, ‘Tones Of Town’, edged forward, as did the Brewis brothers’ 2008 sabbaticals (School Of Language for David; topped by Peter’s The Week That Was). Through all this, any hype has been restricted to the gushing patronage of fellow musicians, both obvious (Futureheads, Maxïmo) to the bizarre (Al Kooper who, as well as producing the two Lynyrd Skynyrd songs everyone knows, played keys on both ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ and ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’).
This may sound like the story of a band destined to have their name dropped by the cred-hungry but never be loved by anyone. But it isn’t. Field Music aren’t impenetrable, and never have been, even when their last album rolled in at 20 tracks and with about five pop hooks per song. Quite often, they sound like ELO. In a good way, your mum could love them. And their moment for wider acceptance is ‘Plumb’.
In what might be the biggest compliment I will pay any band this year, the thing that the album most reminds you of is the medley on ‘Abbey Road’, in the sense that it’s hard to pick out individual ‘highlights’ in what is an endlessly evolving collage. A large percentage of the songs are under three minutes, but feel like pocket symphonies. Within the first minute of opener ‘Start The Day Right’ they jump from tinkling wind chimes and strings to a big bouncy riff, to a bigger, friendly-psychedelic, preposterously bright, ‘Good Day Sunshine’-esque “[i]Goooood mooooorning![/i]” to clarinets and out to the riff again. On close examination, it is complex, meticulously arranged, undeniably prog, yet fun and exciting, slipping past you in a flash.
And so it continues: the drums on ‘It’s Okay To Change’ tread a more mathematical path, but then you arrive at ‘Sorry Again, Mate’, which twists and turns its way into half of a harmony-laden chorus that’s almost Coldplay-like. (“[i]I can’t afford another day on my own/Sat in the kitchen with the radio on[/i]”). ‘A New Town’ begins with strains of melodica, then becomes a throbbing white-funk thing, which leads into ‘Choosing Sides’ and the album’s most memorable lyric: “[i]I want a better idea of what ‘better’ can be/That doesn’t necessitate having more useless shit[/i]”.
That and three other songs whose titles are questions – ‘Who’ll Pay The Bills?’, ‘Is This The Picture?’ (which rhymes “[i]false advertising[/i]” with “[i]one minute’s excitement[/i]”), the a cappella ‘How Many More Times?’ – should give you an idea of the Brewis brothers’ general dissatisfaction with most aspects of the modern world. On ‘From Hide & Seek To Heartache’ – great title – they’re yearning for the simpler pleasures of childhood. Their response to these predicaments is to carry on making music that a) demands repeated visits and devoted attention to fully unlock and b) like a child, doesn’t sit still for a second. The last song on ‘Plumb’, also the album’s first taster, is called ‘(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing’. Funny, that.