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Field Music
Music For Drifters Joe Banks , August 4th, 2015 10:01

It's fair to say that Field Music aren't just in it for the money. As well as producing a stream of brilliant leftfield pop for over a decade now, they've also consistently highlighted the financial realities of being in a band when you don't have a trust fund to fall back on. Despite being relatively well-known, they still only make a few thousand pounds a year and as a result, do a lot of soul-searching about whether it's viable to keep going. This might not be sexy rock & roll talk, but as a poignant reminder of how tenuous the position of many of our favourite artists is, it needs to be said.

Their work ethic is certainly not in question though. In the last year or so, the multi-instrumental Brewis brothers have been involved in a variety of projects: David's second album as School Of Language); Peter's collaboration with Maximo Park's Paul Smith as Frozen By Sight; acting as the backing band for Ian Black's SLUG; and somewhere in between, producing a live soundtrack for the 1929 silent film Drifters, a ground-breaking documentary about herring fishing in the North Sea. Music For Drifters is that soundtrack arranged and recorded, and is perhaps the most satisfying result of all this extra-curricular activity.

Torchbearers for a particular strain of accessible, intelligent art rock – like Steely Dan or 10cc with a post-punk sensibility – Field Music have flirted with the mainstream, even picking up a Mercury Prize nomination for their last album Plumb, but what defines them is an absolute refusal to compromise their own particular vision. David Brewis describes Drifters as being, "full of movement and collage and jump-cuts," which is also a pretty good summation of his band's approach to music-making.

Originally released on silver vinyl for Record Store Day 2015, Music For Drifters is now available digitally as well. As with other soundtrack albums, there's the establishment and reinterpretation of recurring themes, and there's also a complete absence of vocals. But for the most part, Music For Drifters avoids the pitfalls of just having a couple of big songs padded out by a series of minor cues, and remains compelling even without the accompanying visuals.

'Introduction' sets the tone with slow regal guitar and piano, plus a shimmer of Hammond organ from returning keyboardist Andrew Moore, who adds subtle hints of colour throughout to the Brewis's sometimes monochrome palette. 'Village' is a good example, his lazy, playful Rhodes counterpointed by an insistent bass that prods the listener along lest they fall into easy reverie. The choppy and urgent 'Engine' establishes one of the album's key themes as the boats pull out of harbour, before the trebly guitar, meditative toms and churchy organ of 'Headland' evoke images of the sun on the sea, gulls rising and falling on the thermals.

I'm reminded at various times of great British experimenters and eccentrics such as Pram, Penguin Café Orchestra, Brian Eno, and Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green playing 'Albatross'. The stompy melodic shuffle of 'Casting Out' in particular could be off one of Eno's early albums, while 'Destroyers of the Deep' is an almost comical approximation of a boat being pitched to and fro mixed with the fatalistic melancholia of being far from home in hostile territory.

As the album progresses, the tracks begin to coalesce along more traditional Field Music lines. 'Hauling' pulls together a series of interweaving lines and underscores them with a thumping beat; 'Batten Down' is like the crashing of waves against the bow as serpentine organ twists below the surface. But it's 'The Storm Gathers' that's the most classically Brewis-like composition here, its purposeful riff bouncing around the scale while little stabs of incandescent Hammond light the way in the approaching gloom.

Music For Drifters is another fine showcase for the prodigious talents of this Sunderland twosome. A new album proper is promised for next year – let's hope they can keep body and soul together long enough to one day see a decent economic reward for all this artistic endeavour.