Got stung by a pair of ailments last week: a low grade stomach thing and the return of my arch nemesis, lower back pain. When my back goes out of whack, it does so in a big way — near-crippling shocks of lumbar torment that leave me bedridden or hobbling around like a geriatric searching for a lost contact lens.
But let’s talk about records, which I haven’t done since I “retired” from criticism.
I really love the new Field Music release, Measure. In fact, it’s probably the first album I’ve heard in a long while that truly speaks to me. I read somewhere that the brain doesn’t make impressions as readily as one gets older, which is why young people experience such a remarkable bond with music as they discover things for the first time. At the ripe old age of 35, my aptitude for deep sonic impact may be compromised. Nevertheless, Measure wormed a hole into my gray matter, and for this I am glad.
Field Music is David and Peter Brewis of Sunderland, UK — home of a few “indie landfill” bands that I don’t care to mention. Happily, the Brewis brothers don’t like “indie” music either, which is probably one of the reasons I relate to their work.
Earlier Field Music albums had a maximalist, pop-prog bent — think XTC and mid-period Bowie without the coke demons.
I’ve tried my damndest to appreciate XTC, but they really just annoy me. It’s music that’s so up its own ass that it can barely breathe. Field Music, on the other hand, have a much keener understanding of space and dynamics, which makes their cleverness and dexterity far more enjoyable then their mod-pop progenitors.
Field Music’s previous release, Tones of Town, was a critical fave, but the brothers decided to take a three-year hiatus right as things were really starting to cook. “Taking a break was a way of reasserting that the music itself is more important than the myth of being a band, and that ideas should always come before genre classification,” David Brewis explains. “So many bands seem to decide on their “genre” before they’ve played a note, which seems ludicrous to me.”
I’m also impressed that they refuse to act like hooligans to fit into the Northern English stereotype of laddish rockers. “I don’t see why someone can’t be Northern and working-class and also be intelligent and care about art,” Brewis says. Hey, that’s always been my policy.
Measure is an irresistibly taut affair that retains some of the XTC affectations, but also evinces serious riff science. Zeppelin-isms abound, but not the cock rock, lemon-squeezing kind. This is the martial, math-rock side of Zep — the ab-flexing discipline of Presence and the harmonious twang of Houses of the Holy. I suppose Field Music could be termed progressive rock, but this has nothing to do with woodland creatures, fog and Mellotron. They’re prog like early-to-mid period Sparks are prog. Like that semi-famous brotherly duo, Field Music trade in the feminization of “Hammer of the Gods” guitar heroism and a grad-school level deconstruction of hard rock tropes. (I’d say that they also deconstruct XTC, but that band came pre-deconstructed.)
The brothers play all the instruments between the two of them (I play all the instruments between the one of me). Brewis’ reasoning makes perfect sense: “People ask why we played everything on the record ourselves rather than using the band, but mostly I think it would be cruel to torture our friends in that way! We have such clear ideas about how we want the parts on the record; we’d just be sitting there saying ‘no, no, play it more like this’ — i.e. ‘play it more like me’ — for hours on end!”
Measure is packed with bendy, turnabout riffs, shrewdly subdued harmonies and literate yet impressionistic lyrics. Restraint is the band’s true strength — the music is incredibly sophisticated on pretty much every level, but never over the top. And they do rock, albeit in a very gentlemanly way. I am pretty much over live music, but when these guys come to town I’m there. Sometimes you can just tell that a band will be incredible live. Field Music is one of those acts.
Buy this now, wherever you buy stuff.
Here’s a video for one of their poppier cuts from the new record:
And a live cut from a London in-store, where you can get a better sense of the time signatures and riffery: