Sunderland, England’s Field Music have been nominated for a Mercury Prize (for their 2012 release Plumb) and satisfied music aficionados with four albums from 2005 – 2012, each more impressive than the previous. Yet, you’d be lucky to find an American with which to share stories about this considerable catalog. As their tour dates indicate, Field Music has yet to take hold in the colonies. But the smattering of stateside fans won’t care. They’ve got a new release to digest while waiting for a rare live appearance – if they’re lucky enough to be near one of 8 major US cities.
After their most extensive hiatus yet, brothers David and Peter Brewis gathered together a gang of friends and produced Commontime – the first proper Field Music album in 4 years. Those familiar with the band’s pulsing, restless instrumental style and handsome vocal harmonies will immediately appreciate all 48 minutes of Commontime. Bulbous drumming, wiry guitar work, vintage keyboard tones, and elegant singing help create their sound, which is reminiscent of many past acts, but still uniquely their own. Stylistically, the album ranges from expressive, Beatles-inspired melancholy (“The Morning Is Waiting For You”) to jittery math-rock (“Indeed It Is”) and upbeat pop crankers (“The Noisy Days Are Over”).
The brothers are incredibly adept at leaving space between their melodies while still fitting nifty aural touches in the nooks and crannies, as evidenced by the airy, horn-laden opener “The Noisy Days Are Over”. Sounding a bit like Peter Gabriel’s more accessible solo work, the song brings strings, piano, horns, vocals, guitars, and drums to a satisfying, funky simmer. Their music has always been catchy, but their knack for off-kilter song structures and odd arrangements keeps things from getting too hummable. There are still plenty of wrinkles to explore with your headphones here, but the loosely bound chord progressions and surprising sounds are glued together with more substantial hooks than ever before.
Instrumentally, “I’m Glad” sounds like King Crimson gone post-rock. The lyrics give the listener something normal to hold on to in addition to the tricky drumming and sudden key changes. “How Should I Know” rides typically hard-hitting drums and a piercing guitar figure into a sauntering, singable moments. The decidedly English-sounding R&B style of “Disappointed” is highlighted by a smirking, self-deprecating chorus that neatly encapsulates the most lovable elements of Field Music. There are less entertaining moments, like the languorous “Trouble At The Lights”, in which the brothers hew a bit too closely to prog-rock indulgence. There’s nothing wrong with prog-rock indulgence – it just doesn’t accentuate the band’s strengths, which are otherwise so evident. The missteps are few on Commontime, however, and it’s a fine return to form for one of the few worthy survivors from the mid-2000’s British indie-rock crop.