You could call it red pill pop. As the world burns out of control and the alt-rock world rages against Trump, Brexit and the compulsive stream of chaos, propaganda and hotel balcony views that spew from our pocket-based isolation pods, Field Music take a step back, broaden their perspective, dive deep and attempt to retrace the stumbles and sidesteps that got us here. Their conclusion? The global nightmare of 2020 was a century in the making.
‘Making A New World’, the seventh album from Sunderland brothers David and Peter Brewis, wasn’t always intended as such. It began life as an instrumental audio-visual show for the Imperial War Museum to accompany an exhibition of a 1919 image entitled The End Of The War, a visualisation of the vibrations from gunfire and munitions in the minute leading up to the end of WWI at 11am on November 11 1918, and the silence that followed.
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From there it grew into a kind of concept album version of Don DeLillo’s Underworld, a collection of interlocking stories spanning decades, probing at the roots of the modern malaise. War treaties, Dadaism, the origins of sex change surgery and the injustice of sanitary towel tax are all touched on over 43 minutes of cranky, disjointed art-prog.
If that all sounds to you like Field Music once more dodging their fate as national treasures by refusing to deliver the accessible mainstream breakthrough record they’ve had in them since 2004, you’d be right. Like their ‘found sound’ projects, soundtrack albums and David’s forthcoming Donald Trump musical with his offshoot band School Of Language, ‘Making A New World’ can be filed under Dessner-esque Arthouse Project.
Unfortunately, as a musical portrayal of the long-lasting echoes of WWI, its ideas are far more interesting than their execution. For a start, the two short opening instrumentals, ‘Sound Ranging’ and ‘Silence’, intended to reflect the precise moment of ceasefire, are hardly louder than war. Then, as a brave Tommy returns home to his sweetheart and settles into a nice village home, Field Music’s attempts to mirror the music of the 1920s with jazzy interludes and Tin Pan Alley vaudeville piano tunes are stymied when they dropp a clattery new wave number called ‘Best Kept Garden’ in early on.
From there, randomness abounds. Not just in their structures and melodies – Field Music channel Genesis, Gabriel, XTC and Metronomy but with even more of a jumbled, ADHD approach than usual, chucking chunks of ideas at the wall and not even waiting around to see if they stick – but thematically too.
The intriguing and evocative ‘Between Nations’ (which tackles the increasingly fragile peace between the wars in the style of The Beach Boys nervously trying to negotiate fracturing European relations around a Malibu beach campfire) promises great geo-political insights to come. But before you know it we’re getting a proggy, pastoral ode to 1940s gender reassignment surgery pioneer Dr Harold Gillies (‘A Change Of Heir’) and Talking Heads disco tunes despairing of the tampon tax (‘Only In A Man’s World’) – subjects with links to WWI so tenuous they barely hang together.
Even when ‘A Shot In The Arm’ appears to draw a lineage from US school shootings back to the industrialised death machine of the Great War, it’s a misreading; the song’s actually about ‘60s performance art.
It’s only at the very end, when ‘Money Is A Memory’ (David Bowie’s ‘Fame’ if it’d been called ‘Dosh’) uses the final war debt reparations in 2010 to highlight the inhuman greed of the 21st Century and ‘An Independent State’ paints an ominous sonic portrait of an isolated Brexit Britain, that the record reaches any particularly relevant conclusions.
Sonically, meanwhile, the over-riding philosophy appears to be that if you put a million monkeys at a million mixing desks, eventually they’ll produce the complete works of Talk Talk. On this showing, they’re gonna need more monkeys.
Release date: January 10
Record label: Memphis Industries