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Plumb by Field Music

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Reviewed on 9th February 2012.

 
 

Plumb

By Field Music

Somewhere, far away in another dimension, Britain has a thriving, enviable economy, Fearne Cotton doesn't exist, I'm playing off scratch, and Field Music are as big as The Beatles. Most of the above things will never happen, though I'm sure with regards to the latter, Field Music wouldn't have it any other way. The band's core consists of brothers David and Peter Brewis; they released their eponymous debut in 2005 to little fanfare. Channelling the alternative leanings of XTC, with group harmonies and melodies to make Brian Wilson blush, Field Music was a short, compact pop gem. Some of its intricacies suggested a fierce musical intelligence, but it was never going to make them superstars and fly off the shelves - music such as that just doesn't.

Little changed with the release of their follow-up album Tones Of Town (2007). Granted, it was a little more accessible than its predecessor, but they still sounded as though they were making music for themselves - not willing to compromise for the sake of a few more sales. This feeling was compounded when soon after the release of that record the band took to their website to announce an indefinite hiatus from Field Music activities. They wanted it to be known that the band was a by-product of their existence, not their reason for it.

And so - a few pet projects aside - things went quiet for a while. Part of me felt Field Music were destined to disappear into obscurity like their North-East contemporaries The Futureheads and Maximo Park. But I needn't have worried. They returned and then some. The start of 2010 saw them release ambitious, sprawling double-album Field Music (Measure). The time off had clearly done them some good. Again, Measure, didn't exactly set the world alight, but it was an uncommonly very good double-album. So often veering dangerously close to prog-rock territory, the music was saved on each and every occasion by the band's tight, cohesive playing and precise melodies. They sounded reinvigorated - as though their cup was overflowing with ideas and songs, that were in immediate need of penning.

This probably explains the relatively speedy release of their fourth album, Plumb. It would also explain why it's one of the most inventive, brilliant and progressive pop records that I've heard in a number of years. Going back to the aforementioned Beatles, things do start off very McCartney-esque. 'Start The Day Right' wouldn't look out of place on the second side of Abbey Road. Cinematic Disney strings, drums and a delicate piano coincide with the matter of fact, mundane lyrics "I'm sure I was dreaming/ Or was I just tired/ A chance to start the day right." It's a beautiful, bold way to start the album - classic Field Music - all wonderful segues, intricate guitar and piano lines, and shifting time signatures.

But what comes across on Plumb, more so than on any of their previous releases, is that Field Music are now writing songs that are made as much for the heart as they are for the head. Take 'From Hide and Seek To Heartache' for example. It's a dazzling highlight for so many reasons. The fact it sounds so achingly beautiful being one of them. The fact it clocks in at a perfect pop song length of 2.52 being another. Then add to the mix nostalgic, wistful yearnings "Sad we used to see so many people everyday/ Games we used to play/ From hide and seek to heartache" and you've got one of their best, most effecting pieces of music to date.

This is by no means a record stuck in the past, though. There's always a song lurking just around the corner, serving as a reminder as to why the Brewis brothers are considered the boundary pushers they are. 'A New Town' starts slowly, with what sounds like an accordion, but then proceeds to morph into a full on R&B/funk monster, something that wouldn't sound out of place were Justin Timberlake to attach his vocals to it - I kid you not. Similarly, '(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing' is a tightly-wound, concise piece of pop - a keen example of their love of XTC - that stays firmly rooted in the present. It stomps its way along before everything drops out, breaking down into lovely falsetto-flecked harmonies.

This is a record to cherish; one to obsess over. Repeated listens - particularly with headphones - yield some of the most rewarding and complex music released so far this year. But one would hope it's not just the music that receives its admirers. Field Music, as an entity, deserve all the plaudits they will ever get. Here's a band who consistently release great album after album, without any fuss or PR stunts. In our current world of over-promoted and over-hyped musical stars, the fact they're even still around, financially able, and artistically hungry enough to release another LP is something that should be wholly celebrated. Plumb, for its part, feels something of a well-earned victory lap.

 

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