Have you heard it? Do you know about them?
I’d heard the name before but I hadn’t heard the band’s 2005 debut Field Music, nor the follow-up from 2007, Tones Of Town. I’ve heard them now – and the solo projects and off-shoots, I’ve heard the albums that have followed Field Music (Measure). But that was my introduction.
Field Music (Measure) is audacious; a single-CD but a double-album by old-time standards with 20 tracks. And in this day and age that really is a bit of a risk. That’s what I have loved about playing this album a lot – it’s a huge sprawl of an album, an actual old-fashioned album. It works well too across double-vinyl because the music across the 20 tracks has very definitely been created and arranged to suit the old format, offering four distinct sides of music; four experiences/moods.
Field Music creates perfect pop pictures, snapshots of prog-rock too. Well, proggy or perhaps prog-ish. I mean the album’s title, Field Music (Measure), that’s clearly a reference to Peter Gabriel’s series of self-titled albums (with parenthetical sub-titles).
The album’s second track, Them That Do Nothing, announces the first of several very obvious nods to the music of XTC and particularly the melodic grace of Paul McCartney at his best. Indeed the album has many spectral moods and there are guitar solos that feel as if someone is tracing around the guitars of that first McCartney solo album (McCartney) or some of the Wings work (just the guitars, mind). There’s also a touch of Abbey Road to some of the tracks.
Each Time Is A New Time features a definite Macca-styled riff, again think the McCartney of McCartney or the best of the Wings work – but the vocals are more towards a post-punk approach.
Then the title track, well the bit in brackets from the title, Measure, seems to mix David Byrne’s more recent solo work with a touch of Todd Rundgren. It’s in that perfect pop production – equal parts experimental and accessible; charming and quirky.
Effortlessly kicks off with just a hint of an And Your Bird Can Sing-evoking riff before settling in to what a British Wilco might sound like.
And then the mood turns, the second “side” of the first half of the album sees the guitars ramp up for Clear Water – and again it could be something/anything from Rundgren in the 1970s (maybe something or anything from Something/Anything). For Lights Up the groove lopes along nicely as layers of keyboards build around another Todd-styled vocal (Todd).
And then it’s back to The Beatles via XTC for All You’d Ever Need To Say; or a less gimmicky/cutesy sounding Grizzly Bear.
That’s one of the things I really dig about this album – there’s no attempt to be too cute here, this is straight ahead pop and rock for the most part. And just as The Beatles showed, so many times in their formidable career, you can play a straight ahead pop tune and be very experimental too. The same goes for all of the names being repeated here: Peter Gabriel, XTC, Todd Rundgren and McCartney’s solo and Wings work.
Let’s Write A Book adds an element of nerd-funk with breakaway glockenspiel colliding against some funky-wah guitar, a circular bass motif and falsetto voices. It’s Hot Chip, Schnell-Fenster, Yeasayer and Devo all together and happily bouncing around; it’s lean and angular but still somehow bursting with ideas. It’s fresh but not minty. It’s almost a different band from the eight tracks that preceded it.
The Brewis brothers have mentioned Led Zeppelin as a huge influence on this particular album – and though there’s almost nothing from the first four Zep albums here you can hear ideas that might have come about from hearing Physical Graffiti, Presence and Houses Of The Holy. The guitars definitely have grunt and First Comes The Wish even sounds like something from one of the earlier Robert Plant solo albums.
The arrangements are ambitious and some of the songs feel like two or three mini-tunes squeezed in to one. Closing track, It’s About Time might please Sufjan Stevens fans; elsewhere you might hear The Kinks in the shade of one tune or a bit of Dirty Projectors bursting out in to the brightness.
Yes, you could dismiss this then as “record collection pop”; as people just being clever for the sake of being clever. But that’s where the McCartney of the 70s and the Todd Rundgren and Led Zeppelin influences/references come in – partly to show that this is an album that is also full of big dumb fun. Lyrically sharp, conceptually tight but also just a bunch of great riffs and tunes.
It’s an epic pop record at 20 tracks but it is easily one of the best albums I’ve in years. And I love it for the fact that it’s not just something that instantly blows you away and makes you go wow. This has legs. This isn’t something dying to be discovered, desperate to be a hit and then so easily forgotten, this is an album made by artists, not a collection of hoping-to-be-singles made by marketer’s puppets.
This is real music. And, to my ears, it is stunning. And like all good double albums (Something/Anything, Joe’s Garage, The White Album – to name just three) this works because of the risks it takes; because of the blend of simple pop ideas and altogether more complex orchestrations and arrangements.
So have you heard Field Music already? And did you like them? How did Field Music (Measure) measure up with the band’s previous and/or subsequent albums for you? And if you haven’t heard them will you check them out?
And of course all of the names mentioned above – as comparisons/touchstones – are just what I hear in this. You’ll probably hear a whole lot more and many different things too.
Field Music (Measure) is brilliant; a work of genius.