on 26 January 2007
Field Music have created a masterpiece. They have pulled off the hardest trick in the book: making intricate and cerebral music sound poppy and accessible. By keeping songs short and packed with unexpected surprises, Tones of Town manages to delight well beyond its modest half-hour length. A provincial OK Computer, it has grand ambitions tempered by homely charm. Opening track Give It Lose It Take It combines a marimba study reminiscent of Steve Reich's Music for Mallet Instruments, 1970s power pop and the melodic meanderings of Jaga Jazzist; while managing to sound utterly earth-bound.
Lyrically the album is a rejection of prevailing metropolitan "values". Latest single A House Is Not A Home counters the urban chic mindset by reminding listeners that living on your own will never make a home. While the outstanding Working To Work blasts a personal pet hate: people who ask you what you do, as if your work defined your personality.
The album's been damned by faint praise. I've not seen a bad review, but neither have I seen it praised from the mountain-tops. And I suspect this boils down to the usual class prejudices that simmer in the subtext of British rock journalism. Most rock journalists (and I should know, it's a business I find myself in from time to time) are middle class white boys (like me). From the south of England (unlike me). And they define music by opposition: they love music made either by their polar opposites (working class northerners like Oasis making derivative but jubilant rock) or by people just like themselves (public school southerners like Radiohead making ambitious progressive rock). Field Music don't fit at either end of this spectrum. They're northern, but softly-spken and clearly in possession of a wide musical knowledge. They sit between the anthemic and the experimental. Some people believe the middle-ground is the incubator of mediocrity. It's not. It's the point of perfection. Midway between the ice cold and the scalding hot is the perfect, luxurious, sensual and relaxing bath.
Field Music is one of the most underrated Britpop bands since... well, one of the most underrated Britpop bands ever. Their self-titled album last year was one of the musical highlights.
And in "Tones of Town," the Sunderland band manages to top their debut, with a nearly flawless collection of catchy, warm, colourful pop music, cobbled out of squiggly synth, drums and angular guitars. Everything is tighter, more polished, and more musically adept.
It opens with what sounds like a restaurant -- dishes clattering, voices conversing, general hubbub. As that dies away, a chiming melodiy grows louder and louder, with some bouncy, gritty electric guitars joining in.
And it blossoms into "Give It Lose It Take It," a peppy, sunny confection made of squiggly synth, angular guitars and the occasional wave of strings. "Give it away/Nothing's worth keeping that you can't say/Lose it, strip yourself down/Its giving away can always be found/All that you have is all that you need to be!" Peter and David Brewis croon.
They follow that with the rich, beatboxy pop of "Sit Tight" and the swirling tambourine-guitar pop of the title track. What comes after it is a string of deliciously endearing pop tunes -- sprightly pianopop riddled with violin and guitar, mellow ballads, funky guitarpop, synth-riddled rockers, and other layered tunes that will surely have you bouncing in your chair.
Whatever was good about Field Music's music in their first album is multiplied in this one -- the lyrics, the music, and the general feel have all gotten better. The music was fun guitarpop with some flourishes before, but now it's made up of dense little packages of catchy pop, woven together out of outstanding instrumentation.
But despite the deliciousness of the music, there's a vague feeling of discontent in these lyrics. The Brewis Brothers don't complain outright -- they're too bright to try the "poor li'l me" approach -- but their lyrics feel as if they yearn for something more, and don't know what it is exactly.
It's a direct counterpoint to the music, which is a sparkling collection of very tight, very polished little pop tunes. The angular little guitar riffs are wrapped in plenty of squiggly, sunny keyboard (courtesy of Andrew Moore), an occasional tambourine shake, lots of rippling piano, and some rapid-fire drums that add a rock edge to the sunny pop.
And Brewis does a good job balancing between the sunny music and wistful lyrics. His voice is strong and smooth, and he can murmur out those songs without sounding depressing. "Oh and you're a long way from home/All of the thoughts you had were not your own/Even the time you came was somebody else's time/But you're alive between the lines..."
Field Music churn out a brilliant second album in "Tones of Town," with its wistful songwriting and beautifully complex pop melodies. Absolutely a must-listen... and who knows what they'll come up with next?
Originality is the best hint to finding good music, when the world hears something different, a few months later, everyone's talking about it. Field Music were hyped up by the likes of NME as just another Futureheads, with less catchy songs, but they've hit down this negative image like a brick through the window. "Tones of Town" could not be any more original, the fuse of Britpop chords, joyful melodies and dare I say it, beat boxing could not work better. They've given it everything they've got and my oh my, they've done something special.
"Sit Tight" is a song to surpass any doubts about this band as to whether they can follow up their consistent debut with a better album, as does opener "Give It Lose It Take It". In an album than has so much depth to it, it takes as least 10 listens to fall for it, the opening two tracks rise to the back of your head instantly. 2 and a half minutes into "Sit Tight" and there is the pleasant sound of beat boxing and piano, that's something that I thought I'd never say. In fact this album surpasses any doubts any one could have about anything with this band. The peerless single "A House Is Not A Home" brings back the memories of the only 90's music that you could consider being any good, with sublime harmonies and ever-so-cool careless guitar riffing gradually bringing the song into its comfort song, the song changes every 30 seconds into a completely different verse/chorus/bridge and each one is better than the other. Unfortunately this isn't an album to listen to when you've got home from a stressful day at work, you have to literally concentrate when you listen to it, because there is always something special lurking somewhere in each song, a feeling of mystery, a hidden instrument, always somewhere, and as a listener, you tend to feel that it's your goal to find it.
"In Context" sounds like a brutal and successful attempt to place the band ahead of the likes of Maximo Park and Futureheads in the ranks of power-pop legends, it's a song that make you truly think about how much potential is reeking out of this band, and how wonderfully they're using it, they know they've got it, and they're sensibly flaunting it.
The dashing "She Can Do What She Wants" almost reminds you of the phenomenon that surrounded The Beatles, they sound like a band with such a fresh spirit and the closer on the album has a chorus to make you close your eyes for a few seconds and remember the best times of your life, it's not a life changing song, but it is for a couple of minutes.
Exquisite vocals flow through the whole of the record, not just on the lead vocals, everything is at perfect harmony, it feels like this record has been planned for years ago and has been tweaked about with until perfection for a decade almost. Having said that, this album is not perfection, it's pop perfection.
There is not a single poor or even average song on this album, there are only a couple of songs that come across worse than others but overall, the whole thing's perfect pop that should keep you busy for the next few months. No other band can truly change the way that we see punk-pop music in the future as much as this band. An essential independant album if there ever was one.
I thought A House Is Not A Home was quite brilliant. The problem of course is that you always worry that a brilliant single doesn't always translate into a brilliant accompanying album. Fears seems to rescind when a plethora of five-star reviews surfaced for Tones Of Town and whilst I would not go as far as to agree wholeheartedly with those "amazing" reviews, the album is still well worth a listen.
Despite the obvious "Englishness" of the sound, there is more of a West Coast USA feeling to the tunes. Indeed one could almost label it The Kinks meet The Beach Boys, although that would certainly be giving it too much credit in terms of reaching the quality of those acts.
The majority of the album provides bright, breezy pop with melodies that instantly stick in your brain. Particular highlights, alongside A House Is Not A Home, include In Context (with it's starting drum beat that brings to mind Nelly Furtado's Maneater!) and Give It Lose It Take It, one of the album's more boisterous moments.
It doesn't always work however; Sit Tight is especially disappointing, being a less effective retread of A House Is Not A Home with the human beatbox interlude being almost laughable. Still these moments are pleasingly few and for the most part this is a delightful album, albeit a one paced one. It's pleasant more than anything else although there are moments which lift it above that less than flattering description. It's unlikely to blow your mind but you will enjoy the experience whilst it lasts.
Field Music are one of those bands that have been hovering around the periphery of my perception for some considerable time with out piquing my interest enough to make me part with hard earned cash in order to find out what the fuss was all about. Until now that is.
The Sunderland trio's second album, not including a collection of rarities and b-sides, shows that all the talk of their jittery rhythms and disjointed arrangements set to juicy pop hooks and lustrous vocal harmonies was no exaggeration. Songs like "Sit Tight"," Working To Work " and recent single "In Context" all showcase the bands multivariate take on pop , with drum loops , choppy strings , regimented percussion and staccato piano filigrees juxtaposing the melodies and vocal synchronization. If it all sounds too clever by half maybe it is, but it's done with such bravura, and instinctive grasp of pops effortless potential to communicate loftier ideals and ideas that it's hard to resist. For instance "A House Is Not A Home" is a superb elliptical version of American FM radio rock but with lyrics of quiet desperation and urban alienation - a theme that runs throughout the album- that belie the breezy feel good ambience of the song. "Giver It Lose It, Take It" revels in Beatles pop audaciousness while "Closer At Hand" has the most gorgeous acappella opening on a song for some considerable time...well since the Ooberman album anyway.
This is seriously impressive music in both senses of the word. The band takes it seriously, though undoubtedly have fun while doing so. This is shown on songs like "Kingston " and "Working To Work" which lament the onset of capitalism while grudgingly acknowledging that compared to some we have little to complain about. You can argue that point but what is in no doubt is that this is a superior album of fractured literate and intelligent pop. "Tones Of Town "should be talk of the town and I should have investigated Field Music earlier.
on 24 January 2007
Peter Brewis, David Brewis and Andrew Moore have not only managed to avoid 'Difficult Second Album Syndrome' so much as stick two fingers up at it and run away laughing, throwing our way instead something that sounds wonderfully accomplished and deliciously familiar. At times they're drawing from the past glories of great British bands such as The Kinks and The Small Faces, at times they're as clever as The Beatles. Despite the West Coast US harmonies it's drenched in, Tones of Town is the same kind of very English, very knowing pop-cleverness XTC could achieve on a good day, mixing late '60s soundscapes with witty lyrics and angular '80s guitars.
Second track Sit Tight has a beautiful dreamy quality to its melody as well as a fantastic piano riff, and by the time the album's best single, 'In Context' comes round, it's like welcoming an old friend back into the fold, a reminder that while I can't be bothered to buy singles anymore, I really should make the effort, because otherwise I might spend months missing out and forgetting how good they were before the album arrives.
Working to Work is a lovely little fable of modern life with a fabulous bassline and an almost nursery rhyme quality. Field Music mix together vibraphones, violins and cellos to great effect , then throw in some almost hardcore riffs when you least expect them to throw you off balance in the nicest way possible.
The result makes Tones of Town a fantastically listenable album. Gentler and softer than Maximo Park, less angular than The Futureheads more tuneful and deft than both - yet that trademark Teesdide stomp is in there if you listen carefully enough, just hidden well enough that they can't be accused of being identikit. A Gap Has Appeared is another real gem of a track, with vocals any record would be proud of. Place Yourself is even better, whispery pop loveliness you'll never tire of hearing.
It's all still lovingly idiosyncratic, too. They may have been a surprise hit at SXSW last year and have since found themselves named in the News Of The World for creating a new dance craze, but they're still producing their own records in their own studio in Sunderland and they're not selling out to the big labels. In protecting their individuality, they're very much like Belle and Sebastian, another band whose fans could do a lot worse than check them out.
They haven't quite risen out of obscurity yet, but they should have. Tones Of Town ranks up there with The Specials - S/T, XTC's 'English Settlement' and Pulp's 'A Different Class' as English pop at its finest.
on 10 January 2007
Tones Of Town has been in my cd player for the last 3 months (i was lucky enough to get a promo copy) and i can see it staying there for the rest of the year. Whilst their eponymous debut at times came across as little 'cool', Tones Of Town sees the Brewis brothers (and keyboard maestro Andrew Moore) upping the ante and challenging themselves to write and produce a record that is warm enough to invite on the first listen but deep enough to reward time and time again. For those who like their music to challenge you've come to the right place - just when you've got a handle on a song it takes a seious u-turn into the unexpected. that's not to say that Tones Of Town doesn't have pop songs, it's just that the likes of 'A House Is Not A Home' and 'She Can Do What She Wants' are the kind of pop songs that XTC, Madness or Scritti Politti used to write, i.e intelligant and inventive.
It's unlikely there will be a better British record made this year. Go buy....
on 15 December 2009
An absolutely flawless half-hour of sparkling Todd Rundgren/Steely Dan/Gentle Giant-inflected pop genius. Can the forthcoming "Field Music (Measure)" possibly improve on this?
on 28 March 2011
No it's not prog rock per se, but the Genesis and other 70s prog influences are everywhere, and the "80s indie pop" influences mentioned in amazon's review are nowhere to be seen. There's a lot of inventiveness and ideas here but all the prog-isms set my teeth on edge and it ended up in the bin.
on 23 January 2007
The 2nd LP from these Sunderland fellas is a very short record (31:34) but crams more musical ideas in than some bands manage in a whole career. Each song veers off in all manner of directions, time signatures, harmonies, melodic twists and turns. Some may find this annoying and certainly if you're looking for a set of direct, snappy pop songs you should look elsewhere. This is really an album that should be taken as a whole piece to enjoy in one sitting (tellingly there are no song titles on the back). However, thats not to say that its not brimming with catchy hooks and heartstopping moments of musical wonderment.
What does it sound like? Dare I say it, a bit like prog-rock, but with all the meandering flab normally associated with that genre hacked off through a post-punk filter....nothing passes the 4 minute mark. If you like Steely Dan, or The Feeling you'll appreciate the 70s pop chord progressions and piano hammering. If you like the Beach Boys you'll like the harmonies. Add to that a serious jerky art-rock edge of later Wire stuff, XTC, maybe Stereolab....and finally a big dollop of North-East originality and idiosyncrasy that is all Field Music. Its also one of those records that needs a few spins to get into..at first hearing it sounds all over the shop, but trust me a few listens and you'll be hooked. Short and sweet.