[30 October 2008]
If you’re already familiar with the excellent British pop band Field Music, the first thing that will strike you when listening to The Week That Was, the eponymous debut by Field Music member Peter Brewis, is how it sounds pretty much exactly like Field Music. Which is more than a little surprising since Brewis’ brother David (who earlier this year launched his own side project with School of Language) is generally regarded as that band’s main creative force. Whether this means that the brothers share a startlingly similar sense of style or that Peter has more influence on the Field Music sound than is generally suspected, I don’t know. But it definitely means that Field Music fans—who have no doubt grown in number since the release of 2007’s excellent Tones of Town—will be pleased by The Week That Was.
Brewis wrote the album during a self-imposed weeklong hiatus from the grid: No TV, no Internet, no radio, no electronic media whatsoever. The results are unsurprisingly focused: From beginning to end, The Week That Was is executed with mathematical precision. The strings, marimba, percussion, and other instruments—many of which were played by members or contributors to Field Music—are all arranged with OCD-like attention to detail. This zeal for perfection makes the album come off a bit cold at times. But the album’s jarringly spasmodic moments are offset by sweetly cinematic interludes, where Brewis softens his metallic voice to deliver lines that are less impressionistic and more moving than what we’ve come to expect from his other band.
On “It’s All Gone Quiet”, Brewis sings barely above a whisper while the band evokes provincial nostalgia without giving into sentimentality. Likewise, “Come Home” benefits from Brewis’ soft, mournful vocals as he disrupts a slow but by no means downbeat piano-and-strings intro with a truly heartbreaking plea: “Come home / Come home / Your room is a mess / And your dinner is cold”. Here, though, as on nearly every other song on the album, Brewis doesn’t indulge the listener in easy sad-song stuff. Like Paul McCartney when he was at his Beatle-best, Brewis has a keenness for the compositional curveball. Songs transform, blossom, and turn in on themselves without warning and often to startling, but in nearly every case rewarding, effect.
Having said all that, Brewis is at his best when he lets his pop flag shamelessly fly. The insanely nervy “Learn To Learn”, with its ominous keyboard, Reich-like marimba and goosebump-giving “oooohs”, is pure pop poetry. “The Good Life” wouldn’t have been out of place in the ‘80s alongside the Fixx, After The Fire, and their ilk. And “The Airport Line” manages to give aural pleasure while evoking the hypnotic tedium of standing in a long queue. The band is at its most assured and infectious on the final track of this too-brief 32-minute album. On the vaguely sinister and utterly irresistible “Scratch The Surface”, Brewis takes the role of first-person narrator in a dark piece of microfiction that, in a weird way, is reminiscent of Roger Waters circa-The Wall—but with humor and self-awareness. It’s a thumping, deliciously melodic pop gem that more than holds its own with Field Music classics like “Got To Get the Nerve” and “A House Is Not A Home.” If Brewis ever decides to disconnect from media for more than a week, world look out.