Published on February 9th, 2018 | by voxx0
Field Music – Open Here
The usually upbeat Brewis brothers reflect on a suddenly uncertain future in the world of Brexit and Trump…
In early 2012, David and Peter Brewis did an interview in The Observer in which they were breezily open about the finances of their two-man band, and the necessity of counting every penny. The headline was “We earn five grand a year”, a somewhat brutal summary of the privations involved in what the Brewises called “running a fairly unsuccessful small business”, based in a “1970s industrial unit” in their native Sunderland.
Five years on, Field Music’s financial affairs are reportedly that bit healthier, but the sense of the everyday nitty-gritty in their songs thankfully remains. The music is sumptuous, sophisticated stuff that brings to mind such influences as Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, Prefab Sprout, XTC, Kate Bush, and those terminally uncool trailblazers Daryl Hall & John Oates – while also being rooted in the same eternally frustrating, disappointing world the brothers share with 99 per cent of the rest of us. A perfect example was the single that led off 2016’s Commontime: ‘The Noisy Days Are Over’, gleaming art-pop that attracted an apparent tweet of approval from Prince and, among other things, examined the impossibility of combining the responsibilities of parenthood with a decent night in the pub.
When they want to, the Brewises can distil such earthly thoughts into music that is brilliantly uplifting – but over the course of their five proper albums to date, more complicated, darkened moods have always intruded. Here, reflecting the brothers’ downcast reaction to the world of Brexit and Trump and their home country’s suddenly uncertain future, that side of them is given full rein. Compared to, say, the often joyous-sounding music on their 2007 critical breakthrough Tones Of Town, this is a record built on tension, disquiet, and bursts of anger: in its own slightly oblique way, an evocative portrait of both the state of the UK and the travails of sustaining relationships, that also finds chinks of light among the darkness. At times, it suggests an unlikely experiment in which Donald Fagen, Daryl Hall and Lindsey Buckingham were given a quick briefing on the hurly-burly of Britain in 2018, handed a copy of the Daily Mail, taken to Costa Coffee and instructed to come up with songs that reflected what they found.
The opener, ‘Time In Joy’, quickly falls into the kind of cracked funk that defined some of Commontime, but announces its uneasy mood with a question: “Couldn’t sleep last night? Me too.” ‘Share A Pillow’ starts with a big, dumb riff, but is full of jarring discords and jagged guitars – a little reminiscent of Bowie and Robert Fripp circa Scary Monsters – and a drum part that sounds like gunfire. ‘Goodbye To The Country’ has a similarly ominous ambience, an arrangement built on another one of the Brewises’ knock-kneed grooves, and lyrics that touch on some people’s bigoted feelings about immigration.
Most pointedly of all, there is ‘Count It Up’, a very impressive litany of all the reasons why, for all the modern world’s anger and resentment, a lot of white Westerners are fortunate beyond words, and too often mistake simple good luck for the rewards of talent. “If you can go through day-to-day without the fear of violence, count that up,” advises David. “If people don’t stare at you on the street because of the colour of your skin, count that up/If your body makes some kind of sense to you, count that up/And use the breath you have left to say something that matters.” It’s some measure of the elevated thinking at work that the track deliberately echoes Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’.
If the 11 songs here are missing anything, it’s an instant slam-dunk along the lines of ‘The Noisy Days Are Over’, 2010’s ‘Them That Do Nothing’, or such early masterstrokes as ‘Closer At Hand’ or ‘Give It Lose It Take It’. Instead, some of the other highlights here take a while to uncoil, but eventually sound just as impressive, often thanks to the level of musical ambition at work. ‘Checking On A Message’ is a Dan-esque wonder that takes things as close to thundering rock as Field Music have ever been. By comparison, ‘Front Of House’ is downright avant-garde: a skeletal, melancholic piece that comes in at under two minutes, and brings to mind The Blue Nile. ‘Daylight Saving’ is probably the most tender, intimate offering: another helping of the album’s signature melancholia which just about gets away with its kitsch sax solo.
And the grand finale is just great. ‘Find A Way To Keep Me’ begins with three lines of vocals, before it quickly turns into a constantly-changing instrumental piece – full of strings, horns, flutes, and the sound of a choir – that evokes calm arriving after a storm, almost as if the credits are about to roll. Over three and half minutes, it showcases one of the Brewises’ most obvious talents: whatever their subject matter, the ability to create songs built on the glorious joy of rollercoasting musical invention, which somehow capture the love, loss, joy, small rewards and occasional breakthroughs that define the average life.
So ends what probably stands as Field Music’s most ambitious album yet. It has to be said: no other existing British group gets near their level of creativity, nor manages to fuse lyrical and musical complexity with the sense of people in love with the mystical properties of great music. So never mind the money: in artistic terms, theirs is a small business that can be considered a consummate success.
- Jake White