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Field Music
Making a New World CJ Thorpe-Tracey , January 21st, 2020 08:34

Another Field Music album, another set of curious musical curve balls…

Sunderland’s Brewis brothers release their seventh Field Music album in a fifteen year career, just a few months after David Brewis’ third solo effort as School Of Language. That one was a sparse, effortlessly funky concept album that smelled of early Prince, all about – well, not really all about, more channelling a range of topics raised by the inane bellowing of – Donald Trump.

Now cometh the Brexit, cometh Making a New World, which is also a concept album, though with a grander, more nebulous conceit that isn’t entirely welcome to me, in the abstract. It’s a spun-out, pastoral journey that attempts to unbox and contextualise the ‘now’ within the history of twentieth century Britain, after the end of the First World War. And yes, be warned, it only folds out to reveal itself at a careful walking pace. So you’ll need to buy in and have patience to get rewarded by its – real and significant – qualities.

For a start, it opens with two short, ambient pieces that could easily be a film score. It’s only on ‘Coffee or Wine’, as the singing starts, that one begins to get a handle on what Field Music are up to. I can imagine people’s reaction to the whole album depending on if they didn’t mind the drawn-out opening, or if they already got irritated, before the band sang a word. For me, I’m loving the inventive overlaying of bits and bobs; I didn’t notice we were three songs in. And once proper songs lever themselves into the mix, it’s all golden: the Peter Gabriel and Talking Heads comparisons make perfect sense. Even a bit of the delicate (very English, coolly composed) warble of Robert Wyatt.

Throughout Making a New World the pattern persists of dropping little ambient gizmos in between fully realised material, over nineteen tracks in less than forty-five minutes. But there’s loads to love, if you’re up for that journey. The brothers have a sophisticated, theatrical understanding of progressive chords and arrangements. They can meander or gallop. Their pointless distractions are glorious. Their bass is always fucking fat. Later on, as the self-absorbed intensity picks up, ‘Do You Read Me?’ is sublime; a chunky beast that makes me wish they were getting hired to produce the world’s pop superstars. Then ‘A Shot To The Arm’ into ‘A Common Language Pt 1’ is so gifted, such casual breadth of sonic palette, I think they've earned the right to dick around.

Some bits make me think of Richard Dawson’s rise to critical prominence (and I’ll go back to his brilliant 2020 album after finishing with Field Music, for similar kicks in a more visceral, intimate spirit). Near the end, another highlight ’Only In a Man’s World’ is closest in sound to that School of Language album I mentioned. It segues into ‘Money Is a Memory’, we’re halfway out the door and suddenly a record that I worried would feel too long has gone by too fast.

Perhaps Field Music’s flaws sit outside the actual making of the work. Man, they make curious, curious decisions, this pair. I wonder if they were defeated by the sheer scale of the notions underpinning Making a New World, yet couldn’t give up. Anyway, I loved hearing them go for it. It’s a cerebral, voyeur’s delivery, rather than a passionate one, so I’d love to hear Field Music nail a small story of detail and intimacy, instead of punting for such a huge one. But what does any of that matter, when this band is so full of beautiful ideas and warmth and lovely musical curveballs?