hibernation listening

Most our tastes are cyclical. Like Seasonal Affectation Disorder, I crave moody music in the depths of winter and, at the first signs of spring, fall hard for some new, bright and shiny pop confection. For example, while I’ve come to absolutely cherish Damon Albarn’s solo LP, Everyday Robots—a glum and dispirited pop album. Not at first, though, it was released at the height of summer and it was months before I rediscovered it, when the weather (and my mood) suited it better.

I’m also keenly aware that I don’t re-listen to many records, at least not the way I used to. I have so much I follow now, it’s a full-time job getting it all in, let alone go back and listen again. This is fed by certain changes in how we, as a streaming society have changed. It’s hard to recall who sang what, or what song is on what album (or from what year).

A few years ago, I created an experimental remedy, though. I became utterly enthralled by Mary Timony’s Mountains—an album which had languished in my collection, only played a handful times before my little epiphany. Determined not to let the moment pass, I opted for a new challenge: I would forge a new bond with Mountains, branding it upon my brain by listening to it every single day for a month.

It’s a tradition I’ve kept up since. This February, I’m spending my time with Field Music’s fourth album, Plumb. It’s actually embarrassing for me to choose this one, since it appeared on my best-of list for 2012 —which begs the question whether I listened to it closely enough (I did, thank you). In the years since, though, it’s simply been overshadowed by Field Music’s turn towards sharper pop (and their epic, Measure, before it).

Listening to Field Music brother, Peter Brewis’ latest project, You Tell Me, I felt compelled to revisit Plumb. Like You Tell Me, it’s more stately and mannered—containing subtler pleasures. Compulsively listening to the new work made me wonder what discoveries were hidden in the older one.

Plumb is populated with small vignettes (15 songs in 35+ minutes). It’s less about individual, standout tracks and more about painting a complete picture with the whole. Within, Field Music paints a nuanced portrait. It ranges from the poppy charge of Who’ll Pay the Bills to an a capella interlude and a handful of chamber ballads. From Hide and Seek to Heartache splits the difference: a melancholy but bouncy number layered in strings and handclaps. All these turns make Plumb come off as one of their proggier dispatches, despite it’s brevity. (The vocalese solo on Sorry Again, Mate is a clear tribute to former Soft Machine drummer, Robert Wyatt.) True to their trademark sound, though, the entire album is rich with hyper-detailed percussion, up front and center.

Plumb is a richly detailed work, worthy of spending more time with (but brief enough to not be a burden), which is exactly what I aim to do.

field report no.032616

SUBJECT: Field Music

Between their 2nd and 3rd LPs, Field Music took a short hiatus to work on solo(ish) projects. It was around that time they grew to be one of my favorite pop outfits going. They pair a clarity of vision with musical acumen. While they nod to XTC and early Peter Gabriel. They temper their prog-ish tendencies with Beach Boys' Pet Sounds leanings—which they spike with a plaintive melancholy. In sum, they sound as modern as they do historically rooted.

Live, they're stunning. Playing songs with intricate rhythms and tricky changes, all whilst singing in 4-part harmony. The arrangements are cleverly simplified, now so punchy they never feel lesser than their intricate studio-constructed counterparts. They've got hooks to spare but at the heart of their songs lies a peculiar British pragmatism. Their catchiest songs include lines like "Why don't you take the bus like everybody else," and "We tried to stand for nothing, now there's nothing to stand for." They're the sort of turns of phrase that would fit neatly on any song from Pet Shop Boys' disenchanted classic Behavior.

Their Britishness was apparently a clarion call for all UK ex-pats in North Brooklyn, who celebrated the occasion as if it were St. Patrick's Day all over again. The inebriation levels and rowdiness of the crowd was directly inverse to the cheery politeness of the soft-spoken, arty chamber-pop band. Despite our needing to move several times to avoid obnoxious and/or nauseous members of the audience, it was quite an enjoyable show.

Unfortunately, the opening band the Effects, are best left unmentioned. They are deft players to be sure, but without any force of personality to front their skill, it just sounds like warmed-over emo-math-rock leftovers from the 90s.

NOTES: Field Music; The Effects