Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Review: Field Music, Plumb

Field Music: Plumb
Memphis Industries

The first thing to get out the way with this exemplary album, which given the critical respect Field Music now garner surely stands as a major release of the year, is its length. Whereas their 2010 masterpiece Measure stood proudly at 70 minutes (and not a second too long), Plumb is finished in less than 36. And within that, there are some 15 songs, suggesting that the Brewis brothers have become quite brutal self-editors, or indeed something significant has changed in their approach.

In fact, the songs themselves are not so different to Measure. That same percussive energy persists, as do the terse little Talking Heads-style refrains and the harmonies that manage the trick of being sonorous and beautiful, as well as somehow demanding and dangerous. 'A New Town' is an example of that – beneath the sophistication of their instrumentation, production and arrangements, lurks a sense of desperate urban unease that has been with them ever since 2007's Tones Of Town and has also been a feature of Peter and David's respective solo albums.

This feeling is mostly conveyed through their remarkable words, which are both poetic and distinctly gritty at the same time. Kitchen-sink drama would be an insubstantial way of describing it, but banal domestic scenes and grim references to the unsavoury running about of 21st century life define their imagery. This is most poignant on the album's finest track 'Sorry Again, Mate', a neatly packed triumph putting one in mind, as is often the case with Field Music, of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. It's the bombastic chorus matched by the lonely and isolated vocals of the verse that does it. And also like Genesis, childhood and nostalgia sweeten the mood further on Plumb, such as on the wistful 'From Hide And Seek To Heartache'.

Meanwhile, 'Choosing Sides' and 'Guillotine' are fascinating in their subtle and atmospheric depictions of life amid financial ruin across the land. The messages that lurk within their art often exist so peripherally as to easily pass the listener by, especially when you have such strange and ambitious prog-infused, orchestral pop music behind it.

The brothers' desire to incorporate chamber music and that awful buzzword, 'baroque', into pop music is one they have talked about frequently, but they can balance that with what is an innate instinct for the accessible and catchy. As well as the elaborateness of both classical music and prog, they are fans of Prince and Funkadelic ('A Prelude To Pilgrim Street' heads in this sort of direction) and let's not forget they were once part of a tight-knit Sunderland collective with The Futureheads.

And it's a love for the immediately satisfying that perhaps explains why the album is half the length of its predecessor. It's not that the point they are making is less complex or intricate (or brilliant), it's just that that want to make it a lot quicker, in order to get this latest project out the way and continue on their restlessly eclectic journey.

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