The brothers Brewis have navigated the choppy waters of sibling creative collaboration by sheltering at ports of temporary hiatus since 2007. When Field Music are not actively writing, recording, or touring a new album, they become, for all intents and purposes, fixed in a holding pattern. In these lulls, their separate projects — David’s School of Language and Peter’s the Week That Was, among other endeavors — often come to the fore. The second School of Language album, the artfully fragmented and rhythm-centric Old Fears, was only just released in 2014.
Still, there’s no mistaking the ‘we’re back’ vibe strutting around Commontime’s first single, “The Noisy Days Are Over”, which, upon its release last fall, was given a nod via Twitter — which was then mysteriously deleted — from Prince. It is a shame that the Purple One redacted his approval, because the two would have made a suitable mutual appreciation society. Notable differences aside, they share a penchant for exacting technique, wide musical knowledge, and, now more apparent than ever, a natural feel for the groove.
Where Prince holds little back, though, Field Music are less inclined to go lavish. The pair’s modest tendencies have been documented before, and that sense of economy is tangible in their fifth album’s tight, frugal funk. Prone to the occasional defiance of expectation, however, they let “The Noisy Days are Over” revel in its easy momentum for over six minutes. Their going for broke up front pays off, setting up the rest of Commontime with a flexibility that they enthusiastically explore but don’t push too far.
“Disappointed” picks up where “The Noisy Days Are Over” leaves off, except now the conversation has shifted from being between two old friends challenging one another to go gently into that goodnight of responsible adulthood to a new couple with plenty of prior relationship experience taking care to manage the others’ expectations. Sparks may be flying at the start, “But if you need me to be everything / You’re gonna be disappointed.” A slice of ‘70s AM radio broadcast from North East England, “Disappointed” ascends to its two-part harmony chorus on a suave Steely Dan bridge. Even looser is “Don’t You Want to Know?”, which flashes a little low-down swing, given a bit of extra oomph from a slow staccato drum punctuation.
Especially in the way that it is sequenced, Commontime emphasizes Field Music’s smoother side, but that is a strength that the Brewis’ have been developing (both together and separately) at least as far back as on their uncharacteristically outsized 2010 double-album, Measure. Emerging with the fully developed baroque indie rock sound they captured so well on their self-titled debut and its sharper-edged follow-up, Tones of Town, it is not surprising that they would eventually start to unbutton their collars. ‘Ornate’ never really left their vocabulary, though, as Plumb proved in 2012 with its noble-if-occasionally-unbalanced linear collage-pop structure.
By refusing to get too comfortable (even when the notion of some stability coming from their creative pursuits might be a welcome idea), Field Music remain invigorated over ten years after coming up in the Sunderland renaissance with bands like the Futureheads and Maxïmo Park. The lasting influence of the former can be clearly heard in the skinny-tie post punk “I’m Glad”. Commontime doesn’t run from its roots; with its string and piano accents, “They Want You to Remember” would have sounded right at home on Field Music in 2005. Stirring up wah-wah sway with stately chamber trimming, “It’s a Good Thing” is Field Music past and present in a nutshell.
The imprint of place marks a number of the album’s lyrics. “Remember when they said we’ve got the same name so it must be fate / I didn’t have the heart to say it’s just a thing around here”, goes the chorus of “Same Name”, highlighting a natural byproduct of life in lesser metropolitan corners where few come and fewer go. In a more abstract sense, Field Music have always brought a kind of regional dialect to the rock, pop and, on Commontime more than ever, R&B they so dexterously bend to fit them, and that remains one of their greatest assets.