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Field Music
Plumb Michael Dix , February 16th, 2012 09:00

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There must be something in the way British boys are brought up that has an adverse effect on the ability to play nicely with their siblings in later life. With a few notable exceptions, the Americans and the rest of the musical world seem to have mastered the art pretty well, but just ask Ray and Dave Davies, Mark and David Knopfler, Jim and William Reid or Noel and Liam Gallagher about the pros and cons of forming a band with your brother, and see how quickly they shout down the idea.

Not so Sunderland's Brewis brothers, Peter and David, who for the better part of the last decade have been putting out pristine prog-pop nuggets as Field Music. Not for them a life of fall-outs and fisticuffs. No, this pair's fraternal bond - to an outsider at least - appears so harmonious that they seem more like a couple of accountants or architects than the main players in an indie rock band.

With fifteen tracks in just 35 minutes, Plumb - the fourth Field Music album overall and second since they returned from hiatus in 2010, minus third member Andrew Moore - sits at the opposite end of the scale to its predecessor, the bloated double LP (Measure). It's perhaps the finest distillation to date of the various elements that comprise the group's distinctive sound. As always, the Brewis' blend of angular art-rock and whimsical pastoral psychedelia recalls XTC in their 80s studio heyday. That's particularly true of orchestral opener 'Start The Day Right' and 'Sorry Again Mate', a very English reflection on the mundanity of everyday routine ("beating the traffic, meeting the train”) that echoes the Todd Rundgren-produced AOR symphonies of Partridge and co's Skylarking album. Elsewhere subtle nods to Prince abound in the urgent, falsetto-led 'Is This The Picture' and the snappy funk and shuffling bass-driven grooves of '(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing' and 'A New Town'. 'Just Like Everyone Else', meanwhile, throbs like textbook Krautrock, whilst a number of brief interludes afford the opportunity to experiment with percussive workouts ('It's Okay To Change') and Beach Boys-esque a cappella chorales ('How Many More Times').

The problem with reviewing a new Field Music album is that it invariably sounds so similar to what's come before that it's nigh on impossible to find a new or interesting way to describe it. Maybe it's because the group's 2004 debut arrived so fully-formed that it feels perfectly acceptable for them not to have evolved since - a case, if you will, of no news being good news. Circling back to an earlier point, in their own way the Brewis brothers really are like architects, the musical equivalent of Daniel Libeskind or Rem Koohaas, dreaming up aesthetically pleasing and structurally sound creations that - like the Graduate Centre or New Court HQ - hide in plain sight, taken for granted. That said, just like those buildings, the Field Music sound remains rooted firmly to the spot, and while it's certainly no insult to say that Plumb is likely to be yet another overlooked masterpiece from the brothers Brewis, I'm not sure whether it's necessarily much of a compliment either.

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Feb 16, 2012 6:03pm

Seriously, of any potential criticisms that could be made of Plumb, saying their sound hasn't evolved? I got to see them in Newcastle at the weekend, and the massive gulf between the far more ambitious song-structures and wider sonic palette of the material from the post-hiatus work that made up the main set, and the favourites from the first two albums (complete with Andy Moore joining their current four-man live band) that they encored with was vast. Especially on this album, they seem to have finally come of age lyrically - where before their overly vague lyrics were the one real weak spot for the band, on Plumb they've perfected an ecenomical but heart-felt lyrical perspective addressing Northern and working-class identity, the role of the artist in the 21st century and a resistance to crass consumerism and coalition nonsence. It's their masterpiece to date for me, and hopefully it won't go so overlooked this time.

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Feb 19, 2012 12:29am

In reply to Mark:

do pipe down

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Feb 19, 2012 9:42am

Interesting review but to say they haven't evolved since the first album is a bit odd. They've always been extremely musically adventurous but the first couple of records were recorded in a very straightforward manner - not even any reverb. They just sounded like the actual instruments in a room hence the tag of 'chamber pop'. When Measure came out they'd massively expanded their sound and their production skills had matured enough to really start to compliment their songwriting. It's not like this shift was totally out of the blue - unlike that bit in Bill and Ted when they disappear for a few seconds only to return with beards after sixteen months of intensive guitar training, you can clearly see the Brewis Bros' sonic progression on their brilliant pair of solo records 'School of Language' and 'The Week That Was'. 'Plumb' takes it a little further - it's so densely layered that it's tough to get into at first but after a few listens the earworms burrow into your brain and you can't get them out!

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