Field Music: Open Here – Charming, clanking art pop with cheese on top
If Field Music have a superpower, it’s their ability to stack their art pop with a couple of layers of cheese without overwhelming you with the taste of cheddar. There are moments on Open Here so strange, so idiosyncratic, they forced me to sit down and rub my temples: a rattling piece of percussion that shouldn’t be there, a corny vocal line that should have been tossed. And yet, these Sunderland siblings cover all cracks in their style with a kind of oddball charisma. To echo The Office’s Kevin Malone, there are some artists who have charm and some artists who don’t. Guess which type Field Music are? Charm type.
Now seven albums deep, David and Peter Brewis qualify as indie veterans. Their rickety guitar parts and erratic drum patterns still carry the influence of their early, angular math rock proclivities, but nowadays the pair indulge in more old-school influences too. Retro revivalism has been a core pillar of rock music for years, but Field Music’s sound draws from unobvious nostalgia: second British invasion acts like Duran Duran, Phil Collins and Human League, the brash pop bluster of Huey Lewis & and The News, plus the jittery, funky rhythms of classic West African highlife. So at least these mad Mackems are somewhat original with their blend of mimicking.
Who else but Field Music could record a trenchant Brexit takedown built on slick polyrhythmic synths and bouncing keyboard riffs? Sunderland, you might remember, is notable for being the first city on June 23rd, 2016 to declare its voters had unexpectedly swung towards leaving the EU, setting the tone for the night’s shock referendum results. A year and a half on, Count It Up offers a cutting social critique of the wealth gap, racism and privilege in post-Brexit Britain.
“If you’ve ever visited another country and walked through passport control, then count it up,” sings David Brewis in his typical loose, conversational delivery, directly targeting a small benefit that Britain’s nationalistic impulses has jeopardised before moving on to more serious matters: “If people don’t stare at you on the street because of the colour of your skin, count it up.” This song is an impactful depiction of the reality of the recent anti-immigration, patrioteer, “Britain First” sentiment pulsing through the country, almost smuggled down your ear canals by the band’s vibrant pop rhythms.
Then there’s Goodbye to the Country, where the band’s Bowie-in-Berlin-style avant-rock scores Brewis’s critique of capitalist Britannia. “I’m sure it’ll be good fun making money at your kids’ expense,” he sneers. There’s not been a wealth of songs that have targeted the current Tory hierarchy. Really, the UK government have gotten off lightly compared to their Thatcher-era forefathers. Enter Field Music, who with a couple of jaunty numbers manage to land significant blows. May, Johnson and Gove might never sleep as soundly again.
Open Here is not all serious stuff. The other side of the band’s writing can be sampled on Share a Pillow. Riding a blustering saxophone line like Was (Not Was) once walked the dinosaur, Brewis makes the case to a would-be lover that they’d benefit from kipping on the same cushion, airing out his own brand of wacky humour and wicked specificity. Elsewhere, the group’s swinging use of instrumentation is highlighted on opener Time in Joy, which builds a propulsive, drive-time rock song around fluttering flutes and clattering triangles, while Checking on a Message, a highpoint, showcases their ability to wrangle a swinging rhythm from a guitar.
Given the rattle’n’clank nature of their instrumentation, there are times when the arrangements here feel duct-taped together, ready to fall to pieces at any moment. No King No Princess, for example, deploys a scratchy guitar riff and jagged drum loop that lacks poise. It’s moments like this when the wheels come off the band’s orchestration and the album crashes into the mud.
Fortunately, there are tracks on Open Here when Field Music offer a soothing tonic to their more ramshackle numbers with moments of lush orchestral pop that takes huge cues from Brian Wilson’s 1960s studio wizardry and The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper-era extravagence. The title track is a magical mystery tour guided primarily by sumptuously produced violins, while the meshing together of deep strings and George of the Jungle-style drums on Cameraman, miraculously, comes together with significant beauty.
But that’s Field Music, right? Tying all these disparate elements together in a way that’s loose, infectious and easy on the ear. The sauce is the band’s likeability. Open Here boasts that timeless quality that’ll probably still sound fresh even after the political atmosphere that partially fuels the record has long evaporated. field-music.co.uk