Field Mouse are a quintet of singing guitarist Rachel Brown, guitarist Andrew Futral, bass player Saysha Heinemann, drummer Tim McCoy and keys, backing vocalist and general instrumentalist Zoë Browne. They’re joined on Episodic, their latest album, by guest appearances from Sadie Dupuis (Speedy Ortiz), Allison Crutchfield (Swearin’, Waxahatchee) and Joseph D’Agostino (Cymbals Eat Guitars).
Field Mouse deal is the sort of guitar-pop that has us reaching for words like glistening, shimmering and jangling. They’re a cool breeze on a hot summer’s evening, the first breath of air when you re-emerge from the ocean, what we imagine driving down a fast road in a convertible feels like, only we can’t drive and we’ve never been in a convertible. It is articulate, melodic alt-rock, with plenty of poppy hooks and in Rachel Brown, a true superstar front woman with a stunning, effortless vocal.
Field Mouse are from Pennsylvania’s largest city, Philadelphia. With a population of 1.5million, Philadelphia is the fifth most populous city in the United States. Famously the city in which the Declaration Of Independence and the American constitution were signed, Philadelphia was briefly the capital of the US whilst Washington DC was under construction. Philadelphia is a famously medical city, being the site of the first specialist children’s hospital and first specialist cancer hospital in the country, and it is estimated that one in six American doctors are trained in the city. Like many large American cities, the diversity of Philadelphia has given it an eclectic and varied musical heritage, a major centre in the growth of hip hop, classical music and rock’n’roll; famous acts from the city are as versatile as Chubby Checker, John Coltrane and Kurt Vile.
Field Mouse were originally formed in 2010 by Rachel and Andrew, and they self-released their debut album, You Are Here that year. They then signed to Topshelf Records, who in 2014 released their second album, Hold Still Life. On their new album, Episodic, the band have for the first time written and recorded as a five piece, which came out last week again via Topshelf Records.
It’s almost a bit clichéd to say at this time of year, but they really are a spectacularly good summer band. Bright and breezy, they seem to fall effortlessly into perfect sun-drenched pop-punk and wistful indie-pop. Whether it’s the Jimmy Eat World meets Rilo Kiley alt-rock of The Mirror, the soaring Alvvays like Beacon or the vivid 1980’s pop of Out Of Content, they’re never anything less the perfectly produced and sublimely melodic.
Lyrically, the band have suggested that the songs explore both deteriorating relationships and sudden family illness, but they’re delivered not with any grand emotive gesture, they are more subtle and nuanced. Some tracks have a touched of the bruised romantic about them; Rachel coming across as a wide old head who’s seen all the signs but still can’t quite bring herself to give up on the fading embers of a relationship. The album’s quiet pain is bookended by its contrastingly tough and broken opening and closing lines. Opening track The Mirror begins by snarling, “what a way to say fuck off, through your teeth”, but by the time Out Of Context draws the album to a close, Rachel simply ends it by repeating a heartbreaking, heartbroken refrain, “it hurts, it hurts, it hurts.” It’s a record that feels deeply personal, but also winningly guarded, this is no plea for help, it’s just real life, in all its bruising reality.
There are highlights throughout the record, but the exquisite The Order Of Things leaps out, it’s a perfect single, memorable and affecting. Rachel’s vocal is stunning, it’s just a beautifully controlled performance, she comes across as a very natural singer, and her control and tone are perfectly suited to their alt-pop sound. Lyrically it seems to be a call to arms, a plea for people to not give up on their dreams, “make the sound you hear in your head, even if it puts you in the ground.” Advice we whole heartedly agree with, on an album we can’t help but be thoroughly impressed by.
Occasionally you want them to be less Field Mouse and more, if not as far as roaring lion, then at least angry ferret. You just want a bit more bite and a bit more bark to cut through the beautiful musical landscapes, which by the second half of the album have lost a bit of their charm. On another note militant Los Campesinos! fans (if such a thing exists) might be a bit miffed at how much of their track You! Me! Dancing! has been lifted into Field Mouse’s, A Widow With A Terrible Secret; a complete coincidence we’re sure.
Episodic is out now via Topshelf Records. Click HERE for all upcoming Field Mouse shows.