Field Music – ‘Commontime’ Review

A worthy heir to their last album's industry-dismissing eccentricity

Field Music’s 2012 album ‘Plumb’ was at the more unusual end of that year’s Mercury nods. In response to their nomination, Sunderland brothers Peter and David Brewis thought it might be “unfair” if their wriggly art-rock won: “The music industry would be right royally pissed off if somebody who has sold half as many copies as some of the others ended up winning,” said Peter, three weeks before Alt-J’s now platinum debut, ‘An Awesome Wave’, was crowned the winner. The previous year, they wrote a blog saying, “We can function independently from the music industry, partly due to geographical isolation and partly due to the principles we’ve determinedly stuck to”.

The music industry continues to be something Field Music give not much of a shit about – in the last four years they’ve embarked on a series of enjoyably off-piste adventures. These include an avant-garde travel album, ‘Frozen By Sight’, created with Maxïmo Park’s Paul Smith, and another with Ian Black’s prog-punk project, SLUG, as well as a minimalist instrumental album to soundtrack Drifters, a silent documentary film from 1929. That record’s oblique title, ‘Music For Drifters’, is extremely Field Music.

‘Commontime is a worthy heir to ‘Plumb”s industry-dismissing eccentricity. This is the band’s sixth album in an 11-year career and it feels at once fresh and self-assured, bearing its painstaking complexity with a striking nonchalance. There are references to just about every genre you can think of here, from funk and R&B to classical and glam rock, all bound together with the Brewis’ usual wiry textures.

‘Trouble At The Lights’ is possibly the best example of how expansive they’ve become – a mid-album bout of car-bound people-watching, shrouded in epic, Queen-worthy harmonies – but it’s the details packed into every song that make them such a joy. Two minutes into the bass-slapping funk of ‘Don’t You Want To Know’ a faded memory pushes us briefly into a faded grey nightmare. ‘The Morning Is Waiting For You’, written for Peter’s baby son, is an orchestra-backed paean to life; like The Beach Boys’ ‘God Only Knows’, it holds back a trump card – here the bassline – until its idyllic final rounds. Then there’s the stop-start guitar of ‘It’s A Good Thing’, a particularly lush nod to Pharrell’s ‘Frontin’’.

However broad the music’s scope has become, the lyrics remain rooted in Sunderland, mitigating any sense of genre-hopping calculation. We’re definitely chez Brewis, and they’re totally open about the fatherhood calm-down (‘The Noisy Days Are Over’), kid-caused barneys (‘Stay Awake’) and lame school reunions (‘How Should I Know?’). But ‘Commontime’ is a musical magpie, framing its kitchen sink in a thrillingly eccentric way – not only do the Brewis brothers work outside the mainstream, they’re making music no one on the inside is capable of.