Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit


Field Music – Plumb
10 February 2012, 07:59 Written by Adam Nelson

David and Peter Brewis’ last release as Field Music, 2010′s majestic Field Music (Measure), was the brothers’ most accessible, most coherent, and best album so far. For all its sprawl and experimentation – spanning 70-odd minutes and two CDs, featuring ambient Eno-inspired soundscapes and what the band termed “‘found sound’ composition” - Measure showed Field Music, assuredly and confidently, as themselves. Having spent two albums as Field Music and a solo album each finding their feet, David Brewis commented after Measure‘s release that they now felt it “sufficient just to be us”. For the ever-restless Brewis brothers, the solution to the welcome problem of following greatness has been to reject Measure‘s sensibilities almost wholesale. Out go the sweeping baroque string sections and the art-pop song structures, in come – in the band’s own words – “the surreal abstractions of 20th century film music, from Bernstein to Willy Wonka”. Measure‘s title said a lot about the music, controlled and orderly, a rare double album that flowed beautifully and never threatened to spiral out of control. Plumb‘s title is as cryptic as anything found within.

When I interviewed David Brewis recently, he spoke of how he and his brother feel “personally attached” to the album format. The traditional rockist/indie perspective on such matters is that the sum of the tracks adds up to more than their whole: “an album” is a work of art to be taken hollistically, to be listened to as a piece, not to be ripped and torn apart and sold for 79p per segment. “An album”, as understood by those serious about their music, is a singular artistic statement, of which we have certain expectations, stylistically, structurally, and thematically.

So just prior to the release of Plumb seems like an odd time for the Brewises to declare their love for the album format. It’s not that Plumb is an album open to being chopped and shuffled – far from it, due to the clipped, cropped, shifting nature of most of the tracks – but that, at full flow, it feels more like a dismantling of the album format than a paean to a dying art.

For a band frequently pegged as “prog”, Field Music are strangely averse to holding onto anything for longer than they have to. Prog takes its inspiration from improvisational jazz, building around a steady pattern and developing a single idea for as long as it needs to reach a conclusion, but Plumbfinds Field Music cutting away the building part of that trajectory, leaving us with a series of beginnings and conclusions. Several times on the album (notably on tail-end numbers ‘How Many More Times’ and ‘Ce Soir’) we expect a song to lift off, but instead it folds back, or simply fades out: the ellipses in the middle are left for us to fill in. Field Music’s sound and ever-shifting time signatures bear the hallmarks of prog, but this is prog as run through the filter of the schizophrenic, attention-deficit MTV iPod Spotify shuffle-button generation, where Queen flows into Justin Timberlake flows into Stephen Sondheim without ever blinking or thinking.A traditional “album” looks to ebb and flow, to build and release and climax; Plumb moves in more mysterious ways. Plumb is as schizophrenic as the world that surrounds it. Opener ‘Start the Day Right’ changes time signature twice, and flows into ‘It’s OK to Change’ as if the track hasn’t changed at all. Like of Montreal’s experimental Skeletal Lamping, which saw Kevin Barnes stitch together 30-second “clips” of tracks, questioning our ideas of what a song is, what an album is, without ever compromising on the remit of writing startling pop music, Plumb manages to be constantly gripping and engrossing while never leaving an opening for complacency, either on behalf of the listener or Field Music themselves.

Rather than building and releasing tension across the album, Plumb is unsettling precisely because you’re never sure where it’s going to go next. ‘Choosing Sides’, which opens with forty seconds of synth experimentation before opening onto one of the more direct songs on the record, is followed by ‘A Prelude to Pilgrim Street’, which sounds like the opening track to a concept album we’ll never hear. It’s disconcerting and ominous and, at under two minutes in length, it leaves you with a real sense of unfulfilled anticipation. The album rewards the listener who returns, but there is a sense that the great strength of the album – the rapidity with which it bombards you with catchy riffs and hooks – could so easily be a weakness when a great idea is abandoned too soon. It would be unfair to say that there are tracks here that feel undeveloped. Field Music are, if nothing else, dedicated to the communication of their ideas, but the cropped nature of the songs potentially leaves too much up to the listener.

Similarly, while it seems counter-intuitive to the praise of the cracked nature of the beast, the best tracks here are those that the Brewises allow to grow and develop without dragging in three directions at once. ‘A New Town’ rides along for four minutes on a simple funk bassline, letting its lyrical themes – an adolescent longing for the new and an escape from the routine, a counterpoint to Measure‘s ‘Each Time Is a New Time’ in which the protagonist found simple pleasure in a repeated action – be expressed. Closer ‘(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing’ is a clear choice for first single, being the song that connects Plumb to Measure most obviously; and ‘From Hide and Seek to Heartache’, the album’s stand-out moment, slowly builds itself from a single repeating piano note, swelling into the closest thing to a ballad on the album. When Field Music demonstrate where they are able to go if they develop their elliptical fragments, they run the risk of leaving more to regret than to savour.

“My generation are opting out of choosing sides”, laments David Brewis on ‘Choosing Sides’. Plumb is an album which demands that you do just that. There are people who won’t like this record, but one now gets the feeling that the Brewis brothers relish such a prospect. Plumb‘s skittish, schizophrenic structure may aim to reflect the lack of attention we pay to anything any more, but through that it ends up demanding even more from the listener. It will divide people. But those who choose the side of Field Music, who explore all that this record has to offer, will ultimately find something worth looking for.

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