ALBUM REVIEW: FIELD MUSIC – COMMONTIME

8/10

TRACK OF THE DAY: FIELD MUSIC - DISAPPOINTED

Brothers David and Peter Brewis are best known for their primary musical entity Field Music. On February 6 Field Music released their 5th full play LP Commontime. Field Music are renowned in the UK for their own distinctive brand of music and their numerous collaborations with other local  bands. They have collaborated with musical talents such as The Futureheads and Maximo Park and each brother has released their own singular efforts away from Field Music. Since the release of 2012’s Plumb the pair has taken a bit of a pause. “Plumb” was critically heralded and was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2012. Their sound is best described as warm, meticulous, off kilter, jaunty Pop.

The brothers hail from Wearside, Sunderland, UK. They formed Field Music as a post punk band in 2004 with their more than occasional keyboardist collaborator Andrew Moore. Each Field Music release has an ever changing collective of members with the Brewis brothers at the center. The brothers have always been prolific; 2005 saw their eponymous debut released, it was followed by Rite Your Own History in 2006 and Tones of the Town in 2007. After that release the brothers put the band on a hiatus. This was done initially so that David Brewis could put out his own musical effort under the moniker School of Language. Eventually Peter would follow his brother’s example with his own release performing under the name, The Week That Was. The brothers revived Field Music in 2009 and released the 20 song double album Measure in early 2010. In 2012 the duo released Plumb. The release of Plumb was followed by David Brewis releasing his second School of Language Album in 2014 Old Fears.

Field Music is one of the few bands that has transcended and survived the “Post Punk” revival of the mid noughties. Throughout the years they have held fast to their anti fashion stance; describing their music style as wayward pop from the fringes of academia. The duo prides themselves on their frugality and their obsession with micro managing their expenses. They are fiercely independent and have been quoted when asked about their frugal tendencies as saying;”We don’t spend money, so we can do what we want.” They also have charmingly described themselves as “Two blokes running a fairly unsuccessful small business.

Because of their attention to the everyday details of life they tend to have very terrestrially anchored topics in their songs such as; paying bills, beating traffic, people on the dole and the dramas of everyday life . They are in many ways a thinking man’s Sleaford Mods, with possibly more pragmatism and way less anger. The brothers site their influences as Stravinsky, Stax R&B, Fleetwood Mac, Serge Gainsbourg, Thelonious Monk and Kate Bush. They are distinctly British and deconstructionist in their stylings.

There is always a certain amount of charm to be found on any Field Music release. The album starts off with The Noisy Days are Over a high energy song full of galloping guitar and funky bass beats. There is a clever eclectic phrasing that will remind the listener of Devo and Talking Heads. At certain points in the song there is a channeling of Talking Heads’ song “Life In Wartime” that is oh so quirky and pleasant. Other things not to miss when listening are the apt use of Hammond organ, discordant horns and cowbell, and we all know there can never be enough cowbell. The song discusses the comments that come your way when you act your shoe size instead of your age, “The noisy days are over why don’t you get to bed like everyone else… Why don’t you grow old like everyone else?” Maybe my age is showing but I love this song.

That stellar song is followed by Disappointed which is lower key in tenor. Again the awesome beat ridden funk underpins this track. The song is straightforward and earnest, and is like eavesdropping on a couple discussing their expectations. The guy in the relationship argues no relationship is perfect and if you expect perfection you will be disappointed. It is not that he wants out of the relationship he just wants it based in reality saying, “It seems to me that this is as close to perfect as we can find.” It is a highly relatable selection. The track But Not For You seems to follow a hard luck “Charlie Brown” character through a number of daily misfortunes. Here is an unfortunate who seems ever to struggle, wishing just once to find the easy way through something. He is always on the losing side of the coin. The song has a beautiful construct and is very catchy with its R&B flavored lounge jazz sound. The vocal is great and the song is extremely catchy as you cheer the protagonist through his day to day struggles.

Bring on Fleetwood Mac, I’m Glad is a gem. I can best describe it as punchy new wave punk married to Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” percussion with some Devo tossed in. The song is quirky and eclectic and I wanted to pogo around the room while listening. The topic of the song is examining the question of if you could change your life knowing what you know now, would you do the same things or change your decisions? It is a “do not miss” track on the album.

Don’t You Want to Know is a wry take on a relationship that finds itself in a bit of a rut. The same arguments happen every night like clockwork. The protagonist loves the other person but is being slowly driven mad by the drama of the same fight over and over again. The rehash ends up with the partner say,”Don’t you want to know what’s wrong?…it’s you!” There is a commonality to the topic and many can empathize having experienced something like what is described in the song. The whole story takes place over a slinking bass and drum with Prince like soul infused into the selection.

A definite pop vibe inhabits How Should I Know which seems to brilliantly take a page out of Split Enz’s stylizings. This clever song paints the scene of a class reunion that summons all the traumatic teen drama of high school. There is a squeamish familiarity for anyone who has endured one of these events. It recognizes how crushing they can be to one’s time repaired self esteem. This is another brilliant track that many can identify with, it is engaging and oh so clever.

Trouble at the Lights finds the drum and bass that has been at the forefront of the prior songs taking a back seat as a disembodied vocal and wonky guitar take centre stage. It has a dramatic larger feeling and the oscillating tempo makes for an engaging track. They Want You to Remember again throws a lot at the listener; it is in parts synth laden and then goes over to a string section before returning. The song addresses bitter-sweet reminiscent and older loved ones who don’t have a lot of time for the present as they relive the days of yesteryear. They want you to join in those bygone memories you would rather forget. It’s a Good Thing expounds not fearing the impulse to help others and again has that Talking Head’s phrasing over a stop start guitar track.

As you enter the last third of the album it is easy to get complaisant but the song The Morning is Waiting for You is worth the wait. This Joe Jackson tinged song is loaded with strings and earnest vocals as it exhorts the listener to enjoy each day. It is grand, expansive, and dreamy. “Indeed It Is” is a kicking mid tempo rocker about how life changes and what the average night in suburbia looks like. There is significant middle age angst but done with sophistication and wit, for those of us stuck in our middle years the lyrics have significant relevance. Another witty and wry song is That’s Close Enough for Now which is likely biographical. Here the gist is confronting questions about social conformity and being brave enough to say I will go this far and no farther in acquiescing to the norm. It is confronting something such as the pressure to have children. It identifies the blowback when anyone says,” yes that is lovely for some but not right now for me or possibly never”. Backing up the interesting topic is an acoustic guitar that shapeshifts to a more mid tempo rocker, the time signatures again careen all over the shop providing a very entertaining listen.

Same Name sets the song in a situation where someone is desperately trying to find a thread of communality to connect with someone else. The person finds out the only thing the two people share in common is having the same name,” remember when you said we got the same name so it must be fate, I didn’t have the heart to say it’s just a thing around here.” The track again features a great construct of oscillating beats and sonically reminds me of Beck’s “New Pollution”. The final track Stay Awake again seems pretty personal. It reads like an apology to a partner for an erratic time schedule. Additionally it is about being sorry for not always be the person they should be due to exhaustion and time constraints. It is a touching song that plays out over a very funky backtrack.

Commontime is a consistently clever and charming release. There is a healthy sense of understanding the foibles of life and that it is the sand in your shoes not the mountain that can often defeat a relationship or a person’s equilibrium. Field Music is at their best when making wry observations about the absurdities of life. The song How Should I Know is a music video waiting to happen as it chronicles so accurately uncomfortable class reunion encounters. The Brewis brothers certainly know how to take all their influences and musical trail markers and make them their own in a distinctively British way. There is much to like on the release. The only criticism I have is that less is sometimes more. A few songs border on filler but filler that is so much better than most groups’ feature songs. The ever prolific Brewis brothers have produced another musical gem with Commontime.

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