Music Reviews
Field Music (Measure)

Field Music Field Music (Measure)

(Memphis Industries) Rating - 9/10

They always say that you shouldn’t go out when you’re on top. In the case of Sunderland duo Field Music, they were on a middle ground between success and achievement when they decided to go on hiatus in 2007. While Tones of Town was a critical success, siblings Peter and David Brewis felt they had artistically achieved it all under the Field Music bank account, as they like to say. Despite allegations of being financially broke, there’s still an uncertainty about why there was a pressure to make such a decision. If they were broke, it meant that only their biggest fans were buying Field Music records. At the same time, they felt tired of being typecast as an indie pop band - the constant comparisons to XTC didn't help, either. But, once again, if true fans were the only ones paying attention, where did this pressure come from? It’s sort of oxymoronic, actually.

As I like to say, genre comparisons are mainly fabrications that critics deem in search of authenticity; the easy route being, enclosing an artistic accomplishment into a neatly knit package. In other words, the Brewises took inspiration from naysayers and worked dammed hard on a change of pace, not caring if anyone would accept it. Field Music (Measure) is a complex, incandescent revelation into the complexities that mainly compose a double album. Such explorations come once in a lifetime, when an artist feels compelled in holding the listener’s attention for extraneous amounts of time. Even when such manifestations are keener to misfiring, they’re always unpredictable experiences.

Measure can be described as being the metamorphosis that translates Field Music’s born again status. Ambitious as it sounds, it locks itself into a pop compendium, which has always been a strong suit in the past. Gone are many of the qualities that followed precedent albums, or at least treated much more sensibly. The use of angular guitars is almost devoid throughout and time signature changes are subtle, if even present. Instead of a heavy abundance of piano, now absent keyboard player Andrew Moore drew many changes to the overall presentation. The lineup change sounds far stripped down, using a simple setup for most of the album’s trajectory but with a few signature chamber instruments.

Side one of Measure is a more immediate take that is so inspired, it almost goes through without a flicker. First single Them That Do Nothing has a pastoral, almost intrinsic sound that shifts between guitar exchanges amid patterned drumbeats. Each Time is a New Time is a bluesy number, embracing a more freeform approach into incorporating rock n' roll variations that have been hinted before. Measure goes back to chord driven nostalgia, adorned with a violin that emphasizes such chamber arrangements. While the first side swifts through a more vivacious feel, the second half of the first album is far more unpredictable, while keeping that lively approach. Let’s Write a Book is by far the most elusive of them all, a funked out jam embedded with electronic dissonance, falsettos raised to the max, and even a hurried glockenspiel. When they go back to speed with subdued, sentimental closer You & I, the exhilaration is still at hand.

So far, Field Music has covered many different forms of song, but they maintain a welcome familiarity. Of course, part of the reason as to why such album exists is to provide discomfort and abandon a sense of cohesiveness. Though intentions are earnest, the Brewesis are far too aware of their songwriting approach that it could never sound offensive, or tedious for that matter. The second half is far testier for the patient, but the sparse, passionate moments that abound are small rewards for those who hold through. It certainly moves at a slower, pensive pace, further establishing their unique progressive tendencies and now present jazzy interludes.

Describing Measure’s second half is more like knowing that two talented musicians have hooks to spare and aren’t afraid to use them. Piano-driven The Rest is Noise is the closest they’ve become to channeling early Genesis but without the cheesy theatrics. Cuts like Choosing Numbers and excellent brass-laden See You Later, relying on ambient calculations such as fleeting keyboards, bird calls, strings, and outside noises, are more than achieving straightforward verse-chorus-verse structures. It brings back a nostalgia to Allentown's quirky industrial beats, but serves more as a preemptive to the album’s closer. But before that, when Share the Words comes into play, its back-to-basics rock grooves are a welcome reminder of how they can just shred it with precision and prowess. This second half is a testament to how Field Music has always been misconstrued as being prop-pop contemporaries. More so, they recall late 60’s pop with a contemporary approach – think of a more experimental version of The Left Banke, especially when they relied on chamber instrumentation.

I've refrained from describing Measure with lyrical connotations in this review because the listener should discover it by oneself. Suffice to say, the Brewis brothers’ cryptic imagery is still intact, but there’s actual relevance to the material. There’s an inherent struggle about common living that is unveiled, mainly consisting of metaphysical musings such as the day-to-day, insecurities of being part of a social structure, and many stressful situations about life’s changes that are far from banal. Past talks about establishing Field Music as a brand and considering proper jobs don’t seem too far away from the truth. There’s a lot of inhibited genuineness beneath these twenty tracks.

In retrospect, Measure reevaluates the purpose of the double album, but in doing so, changes the rules about how they should unveil as a final product. Even if a track or two could have been cut off, there’s still a sense of brevity in how immaculately edited the Brewises sequence the material and edit all their instruments, leaving a final production that shines with clarity. Field Music may still be tragically unhip for our synth-crazed times, but that doesn’t demean their value. Now, more than ever, they should distinguish themselves as leaders of the pack.