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"Old Fears"

Release date: 07 April 2014
School Of Language – Old Fears
31 March 2014, 12:30 Written by Simon Tyers

Nine years on from their band’s first album, the Brewis brothers who generally make up Field Music remain hard to entirely pin down. Loosely they’ve evolved into a form of crafted, elegaic Beatlesy baroque-pop but it’s one that thrives on musical about-turns. Proggish suites are derailed by quasi-new wave twists, grandiose strings are upended by arrhythmic, jazz-influenced turns. Often they appear to be attempting to sound like the whole of XTC’s career at once.

Something that’s crept into the Field Music sound since the last time the siblings took time apart in 2008 is an underlying fascination with funk rhythms. Where David Brewis’ first album under the School Of Language moniker, Sea From Shore, hinted at a cut-up approach to the classic pop melodicism of the parent band, Old Fears dives right in with an approach pitched between a home studio version of Prince-style funkified electronic production tricks and David Bowie’s Young Americans ‘plastic funk’ era. On top of that, there’s a hefty dose of 1980s keyboard and production effects apparent of the type David Sylvian might have utilised, something more hitherto apparent from Peter’s album as The Week That Was. You wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a Linn drum came into play at some point.

Coupling all that with the Field Music standard, what that means is a set of songs early on that wriggle around a central stuttering groove as if rubberised. Nothing is overstuffed, which means fans of the duo’s crazy paving post-prog approach won’t find much here. Instead the usual care and attention towards every little part is here focused in on precision tooling the minor detail so that such songs remain linear as they jolt jaggedly about their central path, never overstuffing things. “A Smile Cracks” is a case in point as it rumbles on clipped funk guitar, micromanages a playful electronic bassline, gates its snare drum, pulls out some early synth glissandos and plays it all off against Brewis’ wistful considerations of time potentially once wasted on trying to be something he wasn’t. The elasticated “Between The Suburbs” stutters out of step with natural progression, tightly wound around central squiggles as the slyly political lyrics consider the economic bite and working class disenfranchisement. With its stiffly staccato beats “Dress Up” recalls nothing so much as early Justin Timberlake, albeit were the Neptunes in heavily reduced studio budget circumstances.

While hardly a mess, such carefulness with something that turns so far inwards, reflected as much in lyrics that often deal with introspection and looming darkness, does suggest that in this format David Brewis is subverting his typically classicist leanings in favour of something less tangible. Melodies are usually there somewhere but for once they’re not the focus point as much as the rhythmic bite and careful slotting of the instrumental parts together, which seems an odd thing to consider both as an album that defines itself as a certain version of pop and as something a Field Music spinoff project would devolve into. Not that it’s afraid to utilise an exploratory zeal in arrangement: “Suits Us Better” and “Moment Of Doubt” both use looped wordless vocals as backing, the former whispered beatboxing and basso profundo doo-wop, the latter setting positively haunted echoing lead vocals over a one-man, two-part choir.

Right at the end a lot of the extraneous beats are stripped away, the minimal keyboards and off-kilter gated drums of “So Much Time” leading into a closer, “You Kept Yourself”, that echoes of longing and loneliness before found sounds and a late night MOR radio-style mini-sax solo coalesce with the liquid piano sound to help the album drift into the sunset. Such closing contradictions given what’s gone before seem sum up the record – it’s a skew-wiff funk record you can’t dance to, something to get lost in while not immediate, stuffed with arrangements that have so much going on but you hardly notice once they’re set. Where he and Peter would have used studio time to get every part of the bigger picture just so, David on his own seems to have used it to augment a peculiarly British groove with parts that help it turn further inward on itself.

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