Field Music: Plumb

Thorny, twisty abstract pop that mistrusts the concept of "pleasure".

Field Music


Label: Memphis Industries
US Release Date: 2012-02-21
UK Release Date: 2012-02-13
Label website
Artist website

The duo Field Music crafts pop music thick with complex arrangements and lush harmonies, propelled by good beats and amazing drum sounds. Somehow they make it all sound cold and severe, emotionally forbidding.

Not that Field Music are black metal or anything -- any random five-second snatch of Plumb, the British band’s fourth album, would intrigue any random Genesis fan. But Plumb is pop music distilled into its composite moments. Beats and guitar riffs pop up, sound fantastic, and then skedaddle to make way for the band’s next bright idea. Brothers David and Peter Brewis weave their voices through brisk key changes. They rarely sing a hook more than twice. In fact, closing anthem “(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing” could be their artistic manifesto. You notice when they repeat the line “I’m repeating about a new thing”, because they’ve spent so little time repeating anything else.

Partly this is because the 15 songs are so short. Most clock in under three minutes; the longest, all 3:59 of “A New Town”, actually luxuriates in its four-bar groove for a while, but that’s rare. Now, Field Music obviously took some trouble making this album. The sound is pristine, an audiophile’s dream, and the songs are so well-recorded you could diagram the entrance of every instrument. (Speaking of diagrams: some bands decorate their liner notes with art or nudity, but Field Music’s last album featured their recording studio’s layout and equipment list.) But here’s the trouble, if indeed it’s trouble -- the Brewis brothers rarely pause to let you appreciate the fruits of their labor. It’s offputting. Whether they distrust their own material, or whether some particularly terrifying aesthetic makes them mistrust the concept of “pleasure” in general, they’re always pushing you on on ON, to something new.

Take the song “Choosing Sides”, an epic at 3:12. The song opens with doodly synth-brass (I think), Wendy Carlos meets Steve Winwood, then erupts into a martial 7/8 groove. Because this is a pop song, Field Music sings a verse and what must be a chorus, the great-but-hard-to-scan “I want a different / Idea of what better can be / Which doesn’t necessitate / Having more useless shit!” Then, because they’re feeling generous, the brothers sing a second verse, this time with gorgeous overdubbed “la-la-la”s and “oooh”s, along with a second chorus, only this time they’re against “treating somebody else like SHIIIIT”.

At this point, most bands would flesh out their song by adding a bridge or a solo; most feeling humans would then proceed to repeat the chorus, possibly twice. This is how you convince listeners you’ve written a fine song. The self-effacing chaps in Field Music decide to go off on a tangent, morphing their riff into a 4/4 sorta-funk coda, their interlocking voices wailing “I won’t get into it now!” Of course they won’t. A minute of that and they’re done.

That’s about as conventional as the song structures get. Messing around with song form, the Brewises accomplish a couple different things. Their musical abruptness suits their lyrics; in “Choosing Sides”, Field Music might be emulating the abruptness of arguments. Spread over the course of an album, their abruptness also conditions you to focus on each remarkable little moment as it arrives, because it probably won’t arrive again.

But there’s a flipside to that conditioning. Since you know Field Music won’t expound on most of their ideas for more than a minute, it’s easy to simply give up on caring about them altogether. The Beach Boys’ Smile (to pick a completely unfair comparison) shifts sound and texture constantly, but its themes and hooks repeat and climax, and it plays with listeners’ expectations. Brian Wilson knew how to make his complex music resonate with listeners. Field Music’s sonic shifts, impressive though they are, never peak and rarely pay off in any communicative sense. If the band cares about listeners’ expectations, they take pains to hide it. They might be exploring the aesthetic implications of stereo demonstration records.

Still, if you hear Plumb as one long disjointed work rather than as a collection of standalone statements, it’s got points in its favor. For one thing, it’s short. 35 minutes is just sitcom length, and this thing definitely has better production values than Whitney or something. Even if you land on a fairly nothing song like “From Hide and Seek to Heartache”, you still find memorable sonic landmarks -- strings, lovely harmonies, a pounding piano. These touches are glistening mirages of musical connection, whereas the handful of fine standalone songs -- “A New Thing”, “A New Town”, “Just Like Everyone Else” -- are refreshing oases. But that metaphor makes Plumb sound like a barren emotional desert, and it’s not. Intellectually and musically, it’s more like a rose bush in winter: thorny, twisty, and hinting at tantalizing beauty. The more time you spend with this album, the easier it is to get caught.

Prickly bastards.







Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.