Almost immediately after their last album, ‘Tones of Town’ was released, Sunderland band Field Music put themselves on an indefinite hiatus, partly because they were skint, and partly because they wanted to get away from the pressure of trying to compete as an “indie” band. As they said in my interview with them, “The thing with the new record is we had an idea like, how can we redefine Field Music and still not feel like we’re in that competition. Because if we were in that competition we’d probably be sort of like in the 3rd division or something like that, 3rd rate. And we kinda thought, like, well, lets make a double album! An album that’s too long.”
At twenty songs, ‘Field Music (Measure)’ is certainly long, but it doesn’t feel too long and there are no “weak link” songs that could be taken from the album without depriving the listener of something really special. It often seems that the best music comes from a sense of freedom and experimentation, when bands really allow themselves to pursue their vision without worrying about anything else. Their press release for the album says “Unlike previous Field Music albums, characterised by their precision and conceptual and sonic coherence, this new record makes no attempt to present itself as a unified whole.” The songs don’t all go together, but they are unified by the fact that they are all distinctly Field Music songs. By not constraining themselves to as many self-imposed rules as in the past, the Brewis brothers have created an album of twenty individually genius songs.
Trying to condense all of these songs into one summarized review would do a disservice to the album, so instead I’m treating you to a track-by-track breakdown (below the cut).
1. ‘In the Mirror': Starting the record out ominously with distorted guitars, this mid-tempo track has a somewhat eerie, discordant sound. It combines high-pitched, bouncy piano with long, piercing notes on the electric guitar. The lyric “I wish I could change and make new rules” seems to act as a manifesto, declaring that this wont be your average album.
2. ‘Them That Do Nothing': This is the first single off of the album, which is a good choice as it is as close to “radio friendly” as you’re going to get from Field Music. Containing the brilliant lyric “we tried to stand for nothing, now there’s nothing to stand for,” the band describes it as “chopping and slashing pop.” And really, you can’t go wrong with hand claps.
3. ‘Each Time is a New Time': The Brewises get a bit funky on this track, which starts out with a sexy riff on the electric guitar and has a driving beat throughout, with David and Peter singing alternately in and out of falsetto. But the real highlight of the track is the extended bridge, where they strip the track down and make it quieter, adding in tinkling piano, maraccas and tiny bells, only to build back up to a crescendo at the end.
4. ‘Measure': Available as a free mp3 download through RCRD LBL, this song packs a lot of interesting elements into less than 3 minutes. The song consists primarily of choppy strings and pounding drums, with an intricate guitar riff weaving in and out. The sparse but gorgeous harmonized vocals swell in and out as well, and really allow the music to speak for itself.
5. ‘Effortlessly': One of my personal favorites, ‘Effortlessly’ seems more straightforward than a lot of the other tracks. The rhythm and the instrumentation are simple, only dropping out in the chorus for them to sing “So ask me again. / How could my reply be unchanged?”. That is, until you reach the bridge, where it dissolves into a mix of cowbell and squealing guitars over a wonky beat.
6. ‘Clear Water': This is another track with a wonky, almost mutated-sounding rhythm. On top of the off-kilter instrumentation, which at times even includes what seems to be the sound of ripping paper, they keep the vocals fairly simple: the chorus consists of only the phrase “Clear Water” repeated twice in falsetto. At the end of the song, however, they employ an echo on the vocals that give them a trippy feel.
7. ‘Lights Up': The singing in this song for some reason reminds me of James Petralli’s vocals in White Denim‘s ‘Regina Holding Hands.’ One of the slower songs on the album, it has a cautious, hesitant feel to it, as if the singer has been burned and is trying to decide whether or not to open up again. This feeling is carried over into contradictory lyrics like “Lights. I’m ready. Pull back the curtains and be quiet.” and “What have you done? You’re scaring us. Pull down the curtains and be quiet.”
8. ‘All You’d Ever Need to Say': Sung entirely in harmony, the vocals on this track swell in and out over the rough electric guitars that amble unevenly through the song. After only two verses with no chorus to speak of and a cowbell-heavy rhythmic section, they take the guitar on a downward scale until the song abruptly ends.
9. ‘Let’s Write A Book': This fascinating track is Peter Brewis’ favorite on the album. He describes in their interview with TGTF that he was “absolutely gutted” that it was written and recorded almost entirely by David while he was away on holiday. There’s a definite Prince influence to this song, especially in the falsetto vocals, but what really makes this track special is the strange effects they use on the guitar and their random yet brilliant addition of the xylophone. While these disparate elements could easily not work well together, the unique yet consistent bass line ties everything together perfectly.
10. ‘You and I': Standing in stark contrast to the last song, ‘You and I’ is a very slow, almost lethargic track. This, combined with lyrics like “We lie here, quiet, waiting for the rain / Thoughts wander, detached from time” and “watch the time go / minutes stumble into days” give the song a resigned, depressed feeling. Despite its fairly standard instrumentation, the sparing use of strings and the earnest vocals keep the track from being boring.
1. ‘The Rest is Noise': Having made it past the halfway point in the album and switched over to the second disc, the listener is rewarded by this killer song, which sounds reminiscent of the Beatles in places. It has an urgent sound, with staccato piano throughout and “multilayered riffery” on top. Towards the end of the song, the guitar and high-pitched piano go back-and-forth, mimicing each other, until they combine and fade out, leaving only a few notes on the piano to repeat until the end.
2. ‘Curves of the Needle': This is a haunting, eerie song that makes as much use of silence as it does of sound. Minimal piano, guitar and harmonica are the main accompaniments to the verses, and the refrain of “Oh, to be young again, to be loved again” is striking, as it is so intense compared to the rest of the song.
3. ‘Choosing Numbers': The next song, ‘Choosing Numbers,’ very sensibly builds the tempo back up slowly from the previous track. It combines non-traditional percussion with strings, and has a very laid-back feel, other than the refrain of “I only need to remember,” under which they layer many more sounds to give it a richer, more intense feel.
4. ‘The Wheels are in Place': With this song, the energy level is brought way back up and the electric guitar returns. It’s a fairly straightforward song, but strategically places snaps add a bit of interest, as does the way that they overlap the words in places.
5. ‘First Comes the Wish': After starting out with a low drone, a rhythm comes in thats reminiscent of the sound a train makes. The thing that strikes me most about this mid-tempo track is the line “We can swallow a change if it feels right,” because it makes me think of how this album is a change in some ways from their past work, but if anything it’s the best album they’ve done.
6. ‘Precious Plans': Even without the aid of drums (except for at the very end), ‘Precious Plans’ has a definite momentum to it, which comes in part from the fast acoustic guitar picking. It almost has a Celtic feel, which combined with the simple melody and string accompaniment makes for an understated, gorgeous song.
7. ‘See You Later': One of the stranger tracks on the album, ‘See You Later,’ begins with the sounds of cars and footsteps, as if someone is walking along the road on a windy night. They then bring in bouncy piano and electric guitar and even horns, but only for about 30 seconds. The song is almost instrumental, as they only sing “And after all, who’s listening? / And will I see you, see you later?” at the very end.
8. ‘Something Familiar': This song most likely is something familiar to long-time Field Music fans. Of the 20 songs on the album, it sounds the most like songs you would’ve heard on 2005’s ‘Field Music’ or 2007’s ‘Tones of Town.’ The majority of the song consists of a driving beat with complicated, overlapping riffs on top, but about halfway through it slows way down and introduces a very soulful sounding guitar part.
9. ‘Share the Words': Although not as radio-friendly as ‘Them That Do Nothing,’ this song would be my choice for their second single. It’s the most “rock” sounding of all the songs on the album, complete with thrashing, distorted guitars in the chorus, behind the lyrics “We will share the words / to make things worse / we will terrorize everyone together.” It has a great bass line, and when they played it at their show in Brooklyn it had everyone dancing.
10. ‘It’s About Time': The final track on the album is instrumental, which is just as well, as there is so much going on in the music that words are unnecessary. After a quick, rhythmic section of strings, piano, drums and hand claps, it devolves into ambient sounds like birds chirping and children playing, with only an occasional burst of strings. After a long stretch of silence, the sounds come back in, this time accompanied by discordant piano. After over an hour and 20 songs, it is undeniably “about time” for the record to end.
‘Field Music (Measure)’ will be released on 2 discs by Memphis Industries on 15 February 2010. The album can be pre-ordered now, and is also available on vinyl.