If any band could lay claim to being the UK National – critically acclaimed leftfield indie rockers floating along under the mainstream radar for years, wishing they could survive by eating their glowing reviews – it’s Sunderland’s Field Music. Unlike The National’s ‘Sleep Well Beast’, though, Field Music’s disjointed and oblique seventh album is unlikely to be their long-awaited breakthrough record, unless the streaming public suddenly rediscovers its love for early Genesis, Gerry Rafferty, Talking Heads’ jazz moments and the proggier bits of ’80s synthpop flash-in-the-pans It Bites.
Art-pop fans only need apply. If you can’t handle the odd bout of free-form jazz flute, drum circle folk balladry, cranky pub piano or songs that sound as though they’re being made up on the fly by a band responding to mood cards being held up in the studio – ‘Maudlin’! ‘Frivolous’! ‘Anti-Brexit’! – then ‘Open Here’ will prove a challenge. A meandering early-’70s montage approach to song structure merges with oddball new wave melodies and the sort of whimsical, hook-avoiding choruses that Peter Gabriel used to sing about Victorian tree monsters in 1974, often dressed as a giant STD. The result is an intriguing, if disorientating, sprawl of sound.
On occasion, the album does nod to 2018. ‘Count It Up’ could be Godley & Creme and David Byrne getting together in 1981 to discuss the detrimental effects of Brexit (“You utilise your democratic power for the good of somebody else”), while the likes of ‘Share A Pillow’, ‘No King No Princess’, ‘Daylight Saving’ and ‘Goodbye To The Country’ have a good old go at making Metronomy more Jools-friendly, with extra rootsy rhythms, music-hall piano and slap bass. But ‘Open Here’ is most successful when it dives shamelessly into its dad’s vinyl; the parts of the six-minute ‘Time In Joy’ that come on like a baroque-pop Kate Bush tune (as played by The Shins), the 10cc/Steely Dan blues-swing driving ‘Checking On A Message’ or when orchestral closer ‘Find A Way To Keep Me’ goes full pastoral pop opera. They won’t be worrying Drake anytime soon, but it’s heartening that such singular, against-the-grain outliers as Field Music endure to remind us there’s more to pop history than ’80s synths and David Bowie.