Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Field Music (Measure)

Field Music (Measure)
Field Music

I wonder sometimes, when I see that a new album exceeds the 45 minute mark, why artists want to give us this much music. I don't mind when it's a real album, with a good sense of sequencing and a larger-scale vision in regards to a pervading mood or a theme. But most new releases exceed 50 minutes, many reach past an hour, and this often seems to be only because the artist doesn't know the difference between a killer track and studio filler. The CD has freed us to put out anything we want to, whereas vinyl forced us to delineate between the tracks we wanted to and the tracks we needed to release.

Ironically, as the format of the album is dying, the album band seems to be making a comeback, and while the focus required to make a real album does not always dictate brevity, the two often come hand-in-hand. Witness Field Music, possibly the modern album band. Of the four Brewis Brothers' albums which predate Field Music (Measure), only one of them exceeds the forty minute mark. And that was The Week That Was, Peter Brewis' side project. Their best album, Tones of Town, flies by, clocking in at 31 minutes and change. There's no room for fat anywhere on that album. And now this band, this band which embodies my ideal of brevity in the name of perfection, has released Field Music (Measure), an old-school double album which times out to somewhere in the neighbourhood of 70 minutes.

I say this is an 'old-school double album.' It's sequenced like one. I've listened to it on vinyl, and each side has its own feel. This is how albums, double or otherwise, are meant to be. It reminds me of XTC's brilliant English Settlement. The two bands bear comparing, even if, from a timbrel standpoint, they sound almost nothing alike. Field Music are cleaner, more refined. XTC are a little sloppier. The Brewis brothers each have smooth tenors, as opposed to Andy Partridge's rough-edged howl. XTC became more precise with age. The Brewis Brothers are starting to sound like Led Zeppelin.

What XTC and Field Music have in common is that both draw massive benefits from repeated listens. Forensic levels of detail, which reward the attentive ear, litter all of their collective releases. The intriguing difference here, I believe, is that while XTC were a pop band with artistic tendencies, Field Music are an art band with pop tendencies. That is to say, XTC become more impressive while retaining their enjoyability, and Field Music become more (read: immensely) enjoyable while retaining their impressiveness. The first time through Field Music (Measure) was too much for me. There was too much to digest intellectually for it to hit my gut. The second time flew right by.

For those unfamiliar with Field Music, we have here precise, weird, blindingly brilliant pop music. It's all a bit angular, and it's not very loose, but the melodies throughout are top-notch, and the music rides an impressive sense of groove. Any band that can make 11/8 work without you noticing is riding a great groove. "Let's Write a Book" has an amazing riff at its core. "In the Mirror" opens the album with a dark, foreboding guitar line. I like it for personal reasons. Are there flaws? Certainly. The third side isn't as engaging as the rest, and the closer, "It's About Time," standing on its own, is indulgent. But within the context of the album, which is, mind you, what this is, everything has found its proper place, and the relaxed strings and score-like dashes of piano serve as a come down from what you've just experienced. Is it for everyone? Of course it's not. None of the best stuff is. But it's amazing, what you can do with 70 minutes, when you have a need, and not a want, to fill it.

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