Today, I would like to put to you a theory. The most interesting musical family currently making music anywhere in the world are the family Brewis.
The first time the world saw a Brewis was way back in 2000, when the elder brother Peter Brewis played drums for The Futureheads. Ironically, he was replaced by Futureheads frontman Barry Hyde’s brother Dave, they clearly like to keep music in the family in the North East.
The first proper release by a Brewis was the debut, Field Music album. The self titled album came out in 2005, a time when the North East had become the hot-bed of the UK music industry, they were meant to follow in the footsteps of Maxïmo Park and The Futureheads and take the UK by storm. While they never quite reached the levels of success of their contemporaries, they also did a lot better than some of the other “next Futureheads”, whatever happened to Kubicheck!? or This Aint Vegas?
They followed it up with Tones Of Town, and that was meant to be that. Two brilliant albums of angular art-pop: too clever and complex for the pop kids; too in awe of prog and time signature shifts to sell records; too penniless to carry on, surely? The plan was, allegedly at least, to finish up the promotional work for Tones Of Town, then go and do something else. What form the something else would take was a tad unclear.
The first fruits of this pause in Field Music’s career path was a “solo” album, Sea From Shore, by younger brother Dave Brewis, under the moniker School of Language. The album continued along similar paths to the two previous Field Music recordings, albeit with even more overtly 80’s nods and an awful lot of references to the sea! Even better was Peter’s own solo project The Week That Was, the nine piece bands debut album was a wonderfully expansive beast, taking the same songwriting blueprint, but lessening the impact of synths and guitars and allowing the percussive and acoustic qualities of instruments to make their own impact. Both albums were released under the banner of “Field Music Production”, the bands even toured together, if this was a hiatus, it was one of the most friendly, or perhaps brotherly hiatuses in history.
Having hiatused in 2007 and gone solo in 2008, Field Music reformed in 2009. Line up tweeks were finalised and the band of brothers returned to the studio to begin work on the third Field Music record. A year later, and the stunning 20-track double album Measure landed. Whilst previous albums clocked in at around the classic, half hour length, this was a sprawling 70 minute beast. A tight-rope walk through complex rhythms, musical flourishes and as many different ideas as most bands cram into an entire decade. It was remarkable that it worked at all, and verging on incomprehensible how much fun it all was. There were hooks, and believe it or not a sense of pop sensibility, it even managed (thanks in no small part to the love of 6music) to creep into the charts, though surely slightly frustratingly, at number 51. The follow up Plumb came two years later, the same year Tell Tales, the debut album from The Cornshed Sisters came out…. and why do I mention that? Adding to the brilliance of the family Brewis, Peter’s wife Jenny sings some pretty darn stunning harmonies in this folkish four-piece.
Oh, and if you were wondering if they ever would make it as pop-stars…. Plumb crept into the charts at number 49; that’s definitely pop enough for me!
THE SCHOOL OF LANGUAGE – OLD FEARS
So, what does youngest brother Dave have for us this time around? School Of Language is, for all essential purposes a Dave Brewis solo album. Ok, so it’s not entirely solo; it does feature Pete Fraser on Saxophone and his big brother Peter is credited as the rather brilliant “sonic assistance”, but for all (other) essential purposes it’s a solo album.
That said, it certainly isn’t a man and his acoustic guitar, open-mic night down the Dog & Whistle sort of solo album. What we have here is a seriously slinky -highly indebted to the 80’s- dance meets prog spectacular… or something like that anyway!
Opening track Distance Between, is an excellent example of what’s to follow. Opening with a plodding, squelchy bass synth line, with counter acting bursts of guitars that are highly processed to the point of sounding a lot like a pesky fly buzzing around near your ear. It also introduces arugably the highlight of the whole album; the production quality on the drums is stunning. Crisp, sometimes harsh and wonderfully punchy, the snare sounds like a gun shot, the bass drum rich and pounding. It’s a constant in all of the Brewis back catalogue; the drums, no matter who is playing them, sound superb and this record is no different. Lyrically is where the album becomes a different kettle of fish. Whilst Field Music have dealt in cryptic tales and stories of neurosis and boredom, here Dave goes for a more up front and honest approach. The topic of a troubled relationship is nothing new, though it’s still an uncomfortable listen for anyone who’s lived through that. It starts discussing the aftermath, and the paranoia that goes with a failed relationship, “maybe I’ll meet you at a show or on the street, maybe we have mutual friends I’ve hardly seen since school, but I swerve and duck, to avoid the complication”, we’ve all been there Dave! Latterly we go back over the story that led us to be this paranoia filled beast, “it’s not that I don’t want you to understand, but wherever we are, however much we share, I feel the distance growing, more and more and more.” It’s a wonderful beginning to an album and by some distance the best lyrics on show here.
Elsewhere they’re less memorable, but the musicianship on show makes up for it. A Smile Cracks flows straight out of the opening track, there’s a truly funky synth line, and with the twinkling keys it even recalls Metronomy, though unlike Metronomy there’s more than one good song on this album. The next track Suits Us Better, where a warm, slow guitar line is matched to percussive, highly processed vocal noises used to create acapella beats. The higher notes push Dave’s voice to near breaking point, but the simple instrumental melody, pairs beautifully and it recalls Wild Beasts slower numbers.
There’s a feeling of not belonging where you are throughout much of the album. On Suits Us Better, Dave notes “you kept me hanging on, you kept me in suspense” on the brilliantly produced, crisp, uncluttered and dance floor worthy single, Between The Suburbs he’s “growing restless in isolation” and urging someone, or himself, to “swap your place, between the suburbs”.
Title track, Old Fears, is a rather bizarre moment on the album, it feels like it should play the role of an instrumental segue between two halves of an album, but as it fades out with some pleasant enough warm, buzzing synths what follows isn’t sufficiently different to what came before for it to make a whole lot of sense.
What follows however is more of the same, and on a thrilling album that’s no bad thing. Dress Up starts with calypso infused percussion and undeniably jaunty guitar line, with more than a sly nod to Prince. Again we find Dave unsure of himself “there’s no point in learning to pretend, even if it works on you, it doesn’t work for me.” If this was 2004 then it would be a floor filler at the indie disco, though now there’d probably be 5 people there but they’d be having the time of their lives!
Moment of Doubt is, with it’s antiphon style percussive singing, a rather tense and disconcerting thing, all low rumbling bass synths and arpeggiated guitars, the repeated line “keep below the firing line” adds to the uneasy feel, it sadly meanders out a touch, with a fairly formless guitar line. Contrastingly, Small Words is based around a beautiful guitar line that’s allowed to flow throughout the entire song, it’s very un-Field Music, which considering this is a solo project should be encouraged.
It’s always good to end on a high, keeps them wanting more, as they say in showbiz, and with closer You Kept Yourself, Dave may have just kept the best till last. The intro, a beautiful bend-heavy guitar line, plaintive reverb heavy piano and gentle, melancholic vocal is a stunning mix. As Dave sings mournfully “you kept yourself, as much from yourself as you did for me” it’s really rather sad, but beautiful too. It’s ultimately a plea to consider what you have and perhaps stick with it “all the things left to learn would be best learned together” as the piano plays out joined by background rustling and an air of static, you think you’ve drawn the album to a close, but there still time for a stunning burst of saxophone and some tinkling bells left to see us out in style. Incidentally has anyone else noticed the renaissance of the saxophone this year? I’ve gone from hating the darned things to seemingly praising them on a near weekly basis!
If School of Language remains merely “a Field Music Production” then all well and good, Field Music return and the world is still a wonderful place. What Dave has shown us here though, is a different side to his personality, it’s a wonderful album in it’s own right. There’s a lot to love here and it should be appreciated on it’s own terms, a shining jewel in the Brewis back catalogue, and a solo album to be incredibly proud of.
Old Fears is out now on Memphis Industries. School of Language start a short UK tour on April 22nd. Including London’s Lexington on the 23rd, as well as shows in Bristol, Manchester, Glasgow and Leeds.