Field Music

Field Music

(Memphis Industries; 2005)

By Peter Hepburn | 15 December 2007

September 26th, top-secret CMG message board:

Aaron: I like [Field Music] more than any super furry album.

As one would expect from any such completely preposterous statement, like the one above, my incredulity was matched only by my curiosity. So I grovel and beg and Aaron sends me a copy of the album. Two hours later I’m left wishing I’d just maintained my composure and wondering what kinda b-level Super Furry albums Aaron’s been listening to. I’m mean, c’mon, this shit’s like the Futureheads on downers with a bit of a string section and not much of an idea of how to write a pop song. I write them off and move on to David Banner. Gangster walk, motherfuckers!

Mid-October

Having lost a bet to Aaron and not wanting to do that with a staple gun, I agree to go back and give Field Music another listen. I still don’t know what he’s on about—probably just the smack talking again. I throw “If Only the Moon Were Up” on a mix and move on to Bun-B.

Late-October, Early-November

That aforementioned mix has made absolutely no progress, and I’m left listening through trying to figure out why on a daily basis. And then one day I realize that every time I hit “If Only the Moon Were Up” I’m singing along. And not just the words; I actually find myself imitating the saxophone skronk at one point and a house guest is looking down the hall at me like I am crazy (because that’s pretty much the clear explanation in this case). This is more or less when I go back and listen to the album again.

I’m not gonna say it made sense that first time back, but given five or six listens, as those hooks worked their way deep within my brain, the minimalist genius of Field Music began to make sense. Actually it makes a whole lot of sense and I started to wonder why nobody had been doing this already. And it hit me: sure, there’s somebody already doing this and their names are Britt Daniel and Jim Eno. (I’ll warn you right now that this is all gonna veer off for a paragraph or too about why Spoon is brilliant, but it’ll get back to Field Music, it really is part of a larger point, and hey, who am I to turn up a chance to talk about Spoon).

So the thing about Spoon is that Eno & Britt are pretty smart dudes when it comes to their rock. Instead of just playing balls out punk all the time they take rock n’ roll out back, box its ears and watch it stagger about. Go and listen to Girls Can Tell and Kill the Moonlight and what grabs you right off is Britt doing his soul-baring and yelping. But throw it on headphones and pay some attention and what comes through is that Jim Eno is a walking heart attack and they’ve convinced the rest of the stooges that play with them that delayed gratification is better than getting’ it hot n’ nasty (Gimme Fiction is mediocre ‘cause they’re losing their way and showing their hand in the process. And wishing they were Bowie, which is unnecessary).

It’s not really a revolutionary thought (most of post-punk was premised on the idea), but Spoon did a hell of a job bringing it back and giving it that Texas swagger. All that remained was for pop music to catch up. But it didn’t.

Now I love The New Pornographers, Magic Numbers, and the previously-maligned Super Furry Animals with a fairly good percentage of my heart, but when you come right down to it these are bands that believe in the hot n’ nasty. There is no delayed gratification, withholding of pop bliss, or general earning of that good stuff. When taken to its extreme this can be either interesting (Tim DeLaughter, though mostly Tripping Daisy and not so much Polyphonic Spree) or just sort of annoying as hell (Wayne Coyne, circa Yoshimi and arguably earlier). What we’ve been waiting for is pop to hit the ebb and head back toward the sort of minimalist indie version set out by the likes of Orange Juice some 20-odd years ago. Lately, Maximo Park and The Futureheads have been heading us back in that direction, but even those two seem a little too willing to give it up. Field Music isn’t, and it’s a beautiful thing.

So, as promised, we get back to the point. By now you probably either think that Field Music is strictly for fetishists or guys with haircuts better than yours, but I am here to convince you know that these three charming lads are for you, too. Yes, you, you sitting there with that pissed-off look on your face wondering why this honkey is talking shit about the Flaming Lips and thinking about just throwing that Franz Ferdinand disc back on. See, Field Music, much more than this review, are worth your time and energy. The trick is giving them the time they deserve to let the music develop.

The record is a gem. Twelve tracks with a sense of cohesiveness that side-steps homogeneity in favor of straight-up old-fashioned album workmanship. Even after 20 listens to the record it’s occasionally startling to notice where one song actually ends and the next one begins. The sequencing is perfect, the production is fantastic (seriously, on headphones this thing does rival SFA levels of production values), and the overwhelming sense of a unified album is worth the price of admission alone (especially in comparison to the disjointed group effort of the still-great Love Kraft, the year’s last significant pop record).

Breaking it down into its component parts shows how well the thing is really put together. As an opener, “If Only the Moon Were Up” is perfect; it introduces the choppy but carefully controlled guitar patterns, the piano lines that often seem to be playing their own song, and the use of accompaniment (in this case horns) to throw the song into even greater skew. While on paper it sounds like an exercise in shooting oneself in the foot, these guys just make it work. And then they make it work for 11 more songs.

Highlights abound; more than songs it’s really sections and elements within songs, parts that are just so fleetingly there and perfect that they’re hard to ignore. The first five seconds of “Tell Me Keep Me” could be built into a great rock song, but instead they work through a whole different bass line, a bizarre vocal harmony, what sounds for all the worlds like a typewriter, a string section, loop the guitar back in there, and then continue on their merry way. The real winners (“Shorter Shorter,” the gorgeous “Like When You Meet Someone Else,” the Futureheads-topping “You Can Decide,” and “You’re so Pretty…”) all play it just as weird. It’s not a matter of succeeding in spite of themselves, but rather just turning the formula on its head and refusing to hand out the goodies (seriously, that “oh-oh-oh” in the chorus of “You Can Decide” is like water to a dying man and goddamn does it taste sweet).

With their clever vocal harmonies and angular riffs, these guys are sure to get plenty of Futureheads references, and rightly so to some degree (I think they’re second cousins or something), but Field Music have taken it a step farther (plus, c’mon, the Beatles references here almost reach out and slap you, especially some of the guitar work). Just when you think they’re gonna go for the pay-off, or even the logical conclusion, they’ll duck left and make the song work in a whole new way. Unpredictability, in the good sense, is the only consistent factor, and they’ve mastered it. So yeah, solid debut.