Field Music - Field Music (Measure)
Chris Tapley 06/02/2010
One of Field Music's main strengths for me has always been the coherency with which their albums are constructed, often flowing seamlessly from one track to the next and with a sense of some over arching narrative or theme throughout. So it seems ironically fitting that after their self imposed three year hiatus (to work on both School of Language and The Week That Was) Peter and David Brewis have reunited with a work that seems deliberately fragmented. It seems they've made a concerted effort to keep the listener on their toes, keep their emotional responses fluctuating from song to song and never allowing them to get fully comfortable. Over the course of these twenty tracks they consistently stop and start whilst throwing in subversive tonal shifts at seemingly every available opportunity, something which makes those hooks that will linger in your head for days an even more impressive achievement.
Whilst 2007's critically acclaimed Tones of Town was notable for it's use of spacious production and vague elements of minimalism it was mainly built around the songs themselves. Here though (perhaps influenced by side projects) the band have pushed these tendencies further than before whilst still retaining their meticulously crafted melodies. The most obvious example is on the lengthy finale It's About Time; beginning with a bright patchwork of woven strings and drums for just ninety seconds before there is only silence with subtle chirps of field recordings and creeping stabs of cello gradually coalescing with the empty space. After several minutes of which some more field recordings emerge and overlaid with a series of discordant noises emanating from various directions and instruments. The track has a very foreboding tone to it and is fundamentally very unlike Field Music, because of this though it's an apt end point for the album as it leaves you questioning what you've just heard. The album almost has a meta-fictional element to it; from the fact that this is their second self titled album, to be distinguished only by the parenthetical Measure. To the fact that we are consistently reminded of the whole artifice of these songs, with the spaces between notes and instruments constantly highlighting the kind of disparity between the songs constituent elements. Perhaps most tellingly though is the track Something Familiar which when placed in the context of the rest of the album sounds so formulaic of a standard Field Music track that it's impossible not to take it as a little tongue in cheek, with it's repeated chorus of “something familiar” sounding exactly that.
It's the context which makes this interesting though, the rest of the album essentially takes the blueprint of Tones of Town and perfects it, whilst also throwing in various other influences to keep things interesting. There's the meaty blues rock of Each Time Is A New Time which also incorporates elements of funk and mixes it brilliantly with their patented vocal harmonies. The band toy with funk throughout the album, most flagrantly on Let's Write A Book which is built around a spiralling xylophone and funky bass with processed guitars and the most sultry Brewis vocals yet laid over it. One of the most memorable tracks is Choosing Numbers, which begins with a light European folk vibe of strummed acoustic guitar and delicate strings before looping upwards in to a big lush pop chorus which is the group at their most Beatles like. Then it winds back down to a little folk song straight after the chorus, it's one of the moments where you become aware of the fact that they're messing with your expectations just because they can, it sounds fantastic though.
Rumbling noise opens Curves of the Needle before being juxtaposed with beautiful piano and hushed vocals with the most morose of the albums lyrics; “oh to be young again, to be loved again”. Again the potential of silence is maximized and the production on this track is exemplary, creating a feeling of vast intimacy which compliments the song perfectly. There's an understated grandeur to the arrangement, especially towards the end with a wonderful spurt of pan flute which underlines the cinematic nature of this track and is one of the album's real stand out moments. So, criticisms? Any? Well on occasion there is a mediocrity seeping into the lyrics and sometimes they feel like notes for lyrics rather than the finished article. This could be contributed to the fragmented nature of the work as a whole of course, but it's a bit of a shame as they often compliment the obtuse arrangements perfectly. The best example being the slow laconic style of You and I which conjures up imagery of a long open road in the black of night with just the opposing headlights sparkling in through the window every so often, and lyrics like “we lie here, quiet, waiting for the rain” It's probably the most melancholy track on the album and hearing Brewis' vocals crack slightly amongst all the intricate precision makes it all the more arresting.
There's so much detail sprawled across these two discs that I couldn't possibly mention all of the great moments here, but suffice to say this is probably the first legitimately great album of 2010. You could be forgiven for worrying the band may be stretching themselves a little thin over the course of twenty tracks and I initially had the same concern but at most there's two, maybe three tracks that could be shaved off here, the rest completely justifies it's inclusion. This album personifies everything that was wonderful about Tones of Town as well as giving glimpses of even more esoteric influences creeping in to their work, and ultimately underlines Field Music's position as one of the most vital bands in Britain right now.