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School of Language

Sea from Shore

(Thrill Jockey; US: 5 Feb 2008; UK: 4 Feb 2008)

Perfection is so limiting

Sunderland’s Field Music was known for its exquisitely constructed pop songs, elegantly proportioned compositions that united seeming contradictions in time signature, key, and mood into graceful, memorable wholes. Field Music is on hiatus now—in one memorable interview the Brewis brothers explained that the band was now only a name on a bank account—and with it some of the white-knuckled control. David Brewis’ School of Language is nothing if not free-wheeling and adventurous, careening through pop, funk, soul, and glitchiness. Sea from Shore, his first mostly-solo album, is messy, even sloppy at times, but gleefully so. Hey, it’s a bedroom record… you can’t expect all the corners to be tucked in.


Four of the album’s tracks are linked by title and vocal elements—the four “Rockist” tracks. Personally, I’ve been so caught up in Sasha Frere-Jones’s degrees of whiteness free-for-all that I’ve completely forgotten what the rockist flap was all about. Let’s stick close to the ground then, avoiding the meta and describing the songs. They are united by looped, abbreviated vocals, Brewis apparently practicing his vowels in staccato interlocking cadences. The songs themselves are loopily, offhandedly pop—falsetto flourishes, bursts of drums, and occasional illuminations of guitar coalescing in a related set of tunes that are not exactly anthemic, but definitely memorable. Of the four, “Rockist Part Three (Asposiopesus)” has the most heft, its crashing guitars and slithery Halls & Oates-ish vocals cresting over minimalist intent.


The “Rockist” tracks take up positions 1, 2, 10 and 11 of Sea from Shore, a hard candy coating around varying flavors of nougat and crème. “Disappointment ‘99”, enlisting two Futureheads (Barry Hyde and David Craig), is the all-out rocker, castrati choruses beckoning over massed guitar clamor. The whole thing is encased in fog and distortion, so that you’re never quite sure what you’re hearing, yet there’s a hint of both arena rock and ‘70s funk in this cut… so much for plaintive bedroom crooning. “Poor Boy” has an even more pronounced hint of funk, though it’s referential funk, more like Of Montreal’s italicized, ironic strut than anything else.


“Keep Your Water”, coming directly after, has a sunny Cali songwriter vibe, though its pristine acoustic guitars are run through a rat maze of shifting rhythms and moods. And what can anyone say about “This Is No Fun”, with its layered, internally contradictive motifs of guitar, multiple vocals, and drums. It’s a mobius strip of pop, its seemingly smooth surface leading into endless complications. It is fun, even as it catches you offguard, spiraling off into ‘70s Harrison guitar riffs, serene Beatles pop, and Steely Dan-ish changes in tempo and rhythm. A glitch-percussioned, uneasily hooky “Extended Vacation” closes the album’s mid-section out in caffeinated style, and then it’s back to the “ah-ah-oh-oh-ah-ah-oh-oh” voice beat of the final “Rockist” tracks.


All of which is to say that Sea from Shore is quite a ride. If it doesn’t have the laquered perfection of certain Field Music songs, it has a bracing, testing pulse to it.  Perfection is so overrated anyway. Bring on the works in progress, covered with fuzz and bursting with life. Bring on School of Language.

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