It has been two years since the last Field Music album, 2016’s Commontime, and it would be fair to say that they’ve been two of the most politically tumultuous years in living memory. For better or worse, the political climate of our small, increasingly isolated island has changed immeasurably and our culture has changed with it. Consciously or otherwise, politics is now in everything; television, comedy and of course music. Those on the left are often accused of moaning, and increasingly it feels like people are searching not for the answer as to why this happened, but for some sign of where we go from here. How do we get past anger and towards a future where it doesn’t feel like the world is tearing down the middle?
These thoughts are articulated throughout Field Music’s newest album, Open Here. David Brewis, one half of the sibling duo at the heart of Field Music, recollects his feeling on writing the album’s lead single, Count It Up on his young son’s toy keyboard; “I’ve been down and angry about the state of everything lately.” The duo hail from Sunderland, the first place to vote for Brexit, and in many ways, a place now synonymous with the howl for change that was the country’s decision to leave the European Union. David recalls how that moment affected him, “that threw into really stark relief loads of fears I have about where we live. It’s been a downtrodden place for quite a long time and people look for someone to blame.” His reaction to the turmoil enveloping the country was in some ways to retreat from the fallout, to bury himself into the studio, to gather his friends around him and do what Field Music do, make music.
The band’s recording studio, a small riverside space, an unprepossessing unit on a light industrial estate in Sunderland, became a place of pure escapism. Any issues, political or personal, were left at the door as they cocooned themselves off from the world and set about recording, rediscovering a way to connect to other human beings, many feeling equally lost. They called in more guests than ever, and made their most lush, imaginative and ambitious record to date. As it turned out, bringing the feeling of security crashing down around them, it would turn out to be the last record they’d make in their emotional bubble of a studio. Their home for five records, they received an eviction notice back in January 2017 and were essentially turfed out, forcing a deadline upon this record they had never wanted to set. Perhaps it serves as a rather neat analogy for a record that, despite their best attempts, is essentially about having your world turned upside down.
The most overtly political moment on the record is Count It Up, a record David describes as, “a howl of rage set to what’s basically my version of Material Girl”. Lyrically, the track was inspired by American economist, Joseph Stiglitz, and his book Making Globalisation Work, “there’s a section about how those on the right hand side of the political spectrum tend to ascribe their fortunes entirely in the frame of their own talents. If somebody is poor it’s because they’re stupid, and if I’m rich it’s not because my parents gave me a great start in life, or money, or a great education, it’s because I’m talented and brilliant.” Perplexingly, this high-brow anger manifests itself as probably Field Music’s most accessible, perfectly poppy track to date. The low-key intro, all boomy, downbeat synths and the distinct, snare heavy drum sound present in so much of the band’s music, slowly builds via slinky backing vocals, piano runs and blasts of smoky, sexy saxophones. As it reaches full-swing it ends up sounding like the middle ground of Talking Heads and, yes, Madonna. Lyrically it’s a howl against privilege, about appreciating every luxury you’ve been lucky enough to have, financial or otherwise, because, as they sing at the song’s start, “pounds and pennies are not the only form of capital.” Making overt references to racism, the power of literature, and ability to travel without being hassled, Count It Up is one of the most stunning dissections of the injustice of a system where the rich get richer that you’ll ever hear, although you’ll probably be too busy knee sliding and punching the air with sheer musical joy to notice on first listen.
If Count It Up is musically the band at their most accessible and lyrically cutting, elsewhere Open Here, is a more subtle creature. With each record they put out, Field Music always seem to offer a gentle evolution, and Open Here is no different. Fans of the band’s angular, artsy sound won’t find anything hugely shocking here, and at the same time, quietly, it is a denser and more versatile record than any of its predecessors. Throughout the record everything just sounds more refined, the ambitious orchestral Beatles-like interludes such as Open Here or Cameraman sounds richer, more complex, the string arrangements denser and more melodic, the woodwind bright and more tuneful. The slinky, funk-pop of tracks like the angry Goodbye To The Country (sample lyric: “I’m sure it’ll be good fun making money at your kids expense”) or the beautiful, parental ode to a brighter future for our children, Share A Pillow, sound more driving, more confident, more Field Music than ever.
There are exciting moments throughout: the manic Rhubarb & Custard like stomp of Checking On A Message; the sublimely beautiful Cameraman, with its double-time drums and swirling cello flourishes, and the angular trumpet-led brilliance of No King, No Princess. More than any Field Music record to date, nothing here feels wasted, no experiment falls flat.
The whole record seems to be building to something, and perhaps reaches it with closing track, Find A Way To Keep Me. After the anguished words and angularity that proceeds it, Find A Way To Keep Me, feels like a final attempt to offer just a shred of optimism for a brighter future. The track is largely instrumental, all bright piano crescendos, and glorious swells of fluttering, dancing strings. There are choral flourishes, blasts of warm triumphant brass; it’s hard not to reach for clichés like sun breaking through the clouds, but it truly is a moment of triumph at the end of a record that at times is anything but easy-going. They might be studio-less, still short of that commercial break through that would make their lives easier, and unsure about the future of their town and their country, but somehow Field Music find space to still see some light at the end of the tunnel, and we all need that sometimes.
Open Here is out now via Memphis Industries. Click HERE for more information on Field Music.