(Memphis Industries ; 2012)
By Brent Ables | 20 February 2012
When Plumb begins, it feels like you’re waking up to Christmas. Over a warm bed of calmly inviting strings and chimes, a four-note melody rings out on the bells, introducing “Start the Day Right”; as it repeats, you begin to think you’re listening to some thinly disguised holiday standard. Brewis sings a few lines: “Was I just dreaming? / Or was I just tired? / A chance to start the day right.” It’s a way to start the album right: lure the listener in, as if into a dream, with those lovely bells and strings—the musical equivalent of hot cocoa—before jumping into an entirely different section propelled by a characteristically complex guitar riff that snaps you back awake. Back and forth, and then, suddenly, the Xmas dream is over: those drums in “It’s OK To Change” start warming us up for change, a new year, a New Year’s party; the clock strikes midnight in the last ten seconds, leading us into the final segment of this wonderful introductory triptych, “Sorry Again, Mate.” This is where the kazoos are brought out (literally). By this point, however, the brothers Brewis and company are sort of just chilling “in the kitchen with the radio on,” having played themselves to exhaustion. “Sorry again, mate, we’re spent,” they say drowsily in their thick Mackem accents. But the party around them has just started.
Ok, so I might be stretching the metaphor a bit here. But it doesn’t seem an inappropriate way to approach this album, which is so deft at expressing moods and ingenious in its conjuring of discrete sonic tones that the songs really do feel like cleverly angular reinterpretations of beloved classics. If not holiday spirit, you might get a whiff of Beatlesque charm or disco fever a la ELO; if the band isn’t making you swoon—that introductory piano/drums/strings crescendo in “From Hide and Seek to Heartache,” mercy!—they might just be casually rocking your face off. Whatever else it might occasionally remind you of, however, this album mostly just sounds like Field Music at their best. Plumb is a brilliantly composed and deftly executed set of indie pop songs that will, if you give the album a few listens, worm their way into your brain and make a nice home for themselves there. (Which is, I promise, much more pleasant than I just made it sound.)
Those few listens are important. It’s not that the material is difficult: these are pop songs, at root, and so there is little on this album that is not immediately pleasing to the ear. It’s the structural curlicues that make some of the songs more difficult to appreciate on first listen. Take, again, that fantastic opening triad: with the modular approach the band continually plays with, you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish one of the songs from another without a reference point, and the tracks flow together as fluently as the individual parts of each. This juxtaposition of discrete musical ideas that obey their own logic is the band’s substitution for the conventionalized structures of most pop & rock songs. Which isn’t necessarily to say that the band is reinventing the wheel with every track: some songs have only one or two alternating segments, while others are simple variations over a repeating motif (like that infectious guitar mantra in the funky “A New Town”). But others, like the lovely a cappella piece “How Many More Times,” are melodic statements told once and only once, because they’re really good at this shit and know instinctively when once is enough.
And that, in the final analysis, is perhaps the most fitting compliment I could pay to an album that I’m happy to heap compliments upon: it sounds like a work of expert craftsmanship—like the creation of a group of individuals who really couldn’t be much better at what they do, and know exactly how to apply that expertise. I don’t just mean that in a creative sense, but also a technical one: you’ll find here, for example, some of the most inventing and resourceful indie rock drumming in recent years, but it’s always in service of the song. Likewise with the hundred different guitar tones and techniques employed on the record. From the ground up, Plumb is through and through the work of a band that has absolutely mastered its craft.