Field Music – ‘Music For Drifters’

Unusual and innovative musicianship makes the Brewis Brothers' instrumental album sing

In the three years since Sunderland-based Field Music’s last album, ‘Plumb’, David Brewis has had a solo album as School Of Language, brother Peter’s made a record with Maxïmo Park singer Paul Smith, and both have ongoing parts in their old bassist Ian Black’s prog-punk project SLUG. As they’ve zig-zagged between jobs, it’s seemed like their main band has been a way off the Brewis brothers’ radar.

Yet here they are, sneaking out another Field Music album – albeit a specially commissioned instrumental one – that places their unique brand of realist art-pop in a whole new context. The pair were asked by Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival in 2013 to compose a new score for influential documentary maker John Grierson’s 1929 film Drifters. They obliged, bringing their former keyboard player Andrew Moore in to help write, perform, record and finally release (first for Record Store Day in April, now digitally) this neatly crafted 20-part composition.

Drifters follows a fleet of Shetland Islands fishermen as they battle the brutal North Sea. This score starts serenely enough, with trademark Brewis guitar lines slipping and sliding all over ‘Introduction’, but by ‘Village’, fiddly time signatures, sinister piano flourishes and clanging chord changes hint at tough times ahead for the seabound protagonists. The gently rocking percussion and carefree riffing of ‘Casting Out Parts 2 & 3’ are replaced by ‘Destroyers Of The Deep’’s skeletal, agitated guitarwork, and the mechanical rhythms of ‘Hauling’ lock together like cogs before being prised apart by the hammer horror intensity of ‘The Storm Gathers’.

As an instrumental score, fans may miss the clever kitchen sink turns of phrase that have populated Field Music lyrics since 2005’s self-titled debut, but ‘Music For Drifters’ breaks down the band’s distinctive sound to its raw DNA. Odd rhythmic patterns somehow sound natural, unusual minimalist melodies feel instantly familiar – these feats of musicianship sit at the heart of every Brewis experiment but on ‘Music For Drifters’ they’re the primary focus, wiping out the conceptual grandeur of the Mercury-nominated ‘Plumb’. It leaves Field Music with an enticingly blank canvas on which to paint the album they’re already planning for 2016.

Robert Cooke