I’m not sure about the current whereabouts of Sunderland’s Field Music, but I am comprehensively certain that they don’t get nearly enough praise for their blend of Beach Boys-style harmony and diverse instrumentation; Wire-esque post-punk; and a dusting of Steely Dan studio perfectionism. They just about ambled onto the scene in 2005 with an eponymous debut but, for me, their creative peak was definitely to be found on last year’s follow-up LP, Tones of Town.
On it, the brothers Brewis (and their associate Andrew Moore) conjure up a loosely conceptual overarching theme of work, urban life, and love, set against a backdrop of alarming musical diversity. Several of the songs – Give It Lose It Take It, Tones of Town – span several fairly distinct musical passages, and yet the album comes in at a concise 31 minutes, lending it a generally hurrying tone, just as the lyrics speak of urban life and work hurrying us along in the real world. Alongside these miniature prog-punk pieces, the band also find time for several slower, more wistful songs, such as Kingston and Place Yourself, the latter of which descends into a sonic barrage of piano strings and whining synth, having spent all of three minutes spinning along to a clippety-clop drum beat.
Elsewhere on the album there is a whole host of interplay between wildly different musical styles and instruments. A Gap Has Appeared segues into Closer At Hand with the help of a beautiful a cappella snippet; Sit Tight places lilting strings alongside subtle beatboxing. Clearly, it’s an album of staggering variety, and yet it does not feel unfocused, for the whole work is kept in check by brevity, and by David Brewis’s slightly pleading voice.
The band are clearly exceptionally clever at their chosen art: on countless occasions do songs experience sudden shifts in tempo and in time signature, while the string and keyboard arrangements are consistently enchanting. And yet the whole affair doesn’t stink of ‘twee’ and ‘fey’ and ‘irritatingly obtuse’, because it is easy for the listener to engage fully with the music and the lyrics. We are an active participant, as opposed to an impressed audience, observing a smug trio of artists.
Field Music’s engaging relationship with the listener or audience is easily observed through their live performances, where they regularly assemble an extended line-up of band members, sometimes including erstwhile friends from Maxïmo Park and The Futureheads. Their music is clever, but not so clever that we feel distanced from it. They don’t sound musically aloof; they sound like they’re having a good time.
The promotional arrangements for the album having been completed, the band members have also found time to assemble solo albums and help out in various bits and pieces, but, hopefully, the spirit of the band remains intact, and I desperately hope that Tones of Town isn’t the last thing we here from Field Music, a criminally under-appreciated and forgotten band of the North. For me, Tones of Town was almost certainly the best British album I heard all of last year, and also featured prominently in my Top 5 Albums Of The Year. The only obstacle standing in the way of their success is a lack of serious media interest, and I do hope that, through David Brewis’s solo work (under the guise of School of Language) they can attract more attention, and a wider audience.
I cannot overemphasise the appeal of this album.