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Field Music
Open Here Barnaby Smith , February 1st, 2018 18:11

Field Music offer immense charm and ideological strength once again on their 7th LP

Let us put aside, momentarily, the jerky riffs and refrains, the tightly-coiled songs, the unusual time signatures, the precise funk and the valid but by now exhausted touchstones of Steely Dan, Talking Heads and Prince. Among the most penetrating elements of Field Music's output this decade is the Brewis brothers' move to incorporate an unassuming, often unobtrusive brand of social comment into their songs.

"Your principles are much more important than being famous," said David Brewis in an interview promoting 2012's Plumb, the album that firmly introduced politics into their sharp, smart, geometric pop, depicting scenes of the grimness and humiliation that many endured as austerity measures which took hold in Britain at that time. The following album (not counting the soundtrack Music For Drifters or solo LPs), Commontime, released in 2016, was less barbed and softer in tone – in part due to both brothers becoming fathers. Exactly two years on, Field Music have turned their critical gaze toward the public sphere once more on Open Here, albeit in a slightly different way, perhaps more with more focus, perhaps with more wit.

Take, for example, the thoroughly excellent 'Count It Up'. This is, even for them, a particularly David Byrne-like arrangement, over which David (Brewis) sings a lyric which, he has said, mourns the fact his and brother Peter's native Sunderland was the first area to declare for Leave. This 'list song' actually sounds more like an accumulation of the material and economic advantages about which those of us in the first world are complacent, from enjoying a haircut to the luxury of turning down employment. "Pounds and pennies aren't the only kind of capital," he opines.

Another track, 'Goodbye To The Country', seems a more succinct examination of Brexit. Another exceptional slice of accessible yet hard-edged funk, this covers "feeding my baby with stamps" and appears to deal with the plight of refugees seeking safety in a community where people are purposely oblivious to the world's nightmarish places. Field Music have never been so angry – nor indeed ever warranted comparison with Billy Bragg, yet on this track there is a similarly simmering, poetic rage at perceived injustice.

Musically, while David and Peter have hardly changed tack, there are a couple of mild developments. Open Here contains fewer out-and-out hooks than Commontime or Plumb, with songs meandering through multiple sections and changes of pace, requiring a few listens to grasp. That said, their imperious gifts for melody and harmony are as thrilling as ever on the dazzling, forceful art-pop gem 'Checking On A Message'.

The duo's usual reliance on strings is complemented by what appears to be a new-ish penchant for the flute, which is prominent on several tracks including majestic closer ‘Find A Way To Keep Me’. Here, flutes are joined by piano, strings, brass and a choir for a four-minute section that is far and away the most invigorating instrumental passage they have yet recorded. With this plateau, Open Here asks simple but urgent harmonic questions that perhaps suggest that the cultural ills documented elsewhere on the album can be alleviated by the joy of communion and the basic celebration of common humanity. The song hints at Duke-era Genesis, Television and a bit of late Pulp to create this mood of uplifting defiance.

In the years to come we might turn to Plumb or Measure before Open Here to remind ourselves of the essential Field Music, yet this, their seventh record, is nevertheless a thing of immense songwriting charm and ideological strength, defined by its sardonic judgement of various seismic social shifts.

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