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.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.