Indie rock/progressive pop act Field Music have always excelled at creating ornately radiant, catchy, investigational, and academic sequences that capture the spirit of 1960s English pop culture while also being very current and relevant. Led by brothers Peter and David Brewis, the band’s knack for occasionally blending off-kilter timbres and structures into their pleasantly alluring core is always second to none. Gratefully, the same holds for their newest collection, Making a New World, which tackles some heavy ideas via Field Music‘s commonly charming, luminous, and multifaceted aesthetic. It’s not all equally memorable or impactful, but when taken as a whole, it’s undoubtedly one of their best efforts.
Making a New World is the group’s first extended suite since 2012’s Plumb, as its 42-minute duration is broken into 19 tracks that range in length from 30 seconds to just over four minutes. They also call it their first legitimate concept album, with its central topic being the aftermath of World War I regarding lower profile subjects like air traffic control, gender reassignment surgery, Tiananmen Square, skin grafts, and even sanitary towels, among others. Fascinatingly, the LP grew out of a mostly instrumental project Field Music were doing for the Imperial War Museum. Eventually, they decided that there were too many “stories itching to be told”, so they needed proper songs. Undoubtedly, the result is full of touching sing-along allure and lovely instrumentation.
The bulk of the full-bodied tunes are just as attractively characteristic as you’d hope. For instance, “Coffee or Wine”—which deals with the fears of returning home after the war ends—is quirky yet slightly solemn. Essentially, jubilant piano chords, steadfast drumming, twangy guitar strums, and bouncy harmonies juxtapose sobering concerns like “Who’s left around the doors? / Will I recognize you all? / Or have you grown away from me”. It’s a compelling use of contrasts that is maintained on highlights like the industrial splendor of “Best Kept Garden”, the haunting half-emptiness of “Between Nations”, the wistful poppiness of “Do You Read Me?”, the Sparks-esque bizarreness of “A Shot to the Arm”, and the Talking Heads-esque 1980s hipness of “Only in a Man’s World”. Although some of these tunes—in addition to others—would leave a larger imprint if they were developed further, each one is still an emblematic winner.
Of course, every good suite needs strong transitional movements to hold it all together, and Making a New World doesn’t disappoint. Prior to “Coffee or Wine”, the record opens with two brief, wordless passages—”Sound Ranging” and “Silence”—that use chaotic earthy spaciness and isolated piano contemplation, respectively, to great effect. Later, “I Thought You Were Something Else” is a lively and nearly psychedelic retro rock instrumental. Whereas “From a Dream, Into My Arms” is silkily ethereal. The two-part “A Common Language” incorporates robotic digital experimentation, and “If the Wind Blows Towards the Hospital” is militantly oppressive”. There’s also closer “An Independent State”, an artsy instrumental that feels like an abstractly dreamy coda. It’s an evocative way to end, for sure.
Making a New World would likely benefit a bit from either being longer or having fewer segments (so that the key compositions are weightier and more established). In other words, cramming so many short observations into roughly two-thirds of an hour does a disservice to their potential. On the other hand, that quick pace gives the album a level of intrigue, momentum, and unity it wouldn’t have otherwise. In any case, it’s a wonderfully appealing, daring, and intellectual accomplishment that should please anyone looking for notably challenging and smart pop/rock.