Does the Law of Diminishing returns apply to music scenes? More 'angular' post-punk throwbacks from the UK. Only this time, they have pianos.
It usually feels reductionist and unfair to get down on a band just for being part of a specific scene. Put, please, enough with the "angular" Scotland/Northern England Post-Punk throwbacks! Yes, Franz Ferdinand, the Futureheads, and Bloc Party all have their merits. And it's not exactly like Field Music are bandwagon jumpers -- one of the trio's singing-songwriting brothers is an ex-Futurehead. But the Sunderland-based outfit doesn't offer any improvement on the sound -- just a different twist.
The jumping-off points are basically the same: Wire, Gang of Four, XTC. Especially XTC. And it's become fashionable to cite Kate Bush, probably because her music is so hard to pigeonhole and she's not a post-punk band. Where Franz Ferdinand et al prefer guitars and heavy rhythms, however, Field Music go for a more whimsical approach, with piano, trumpet, and acoustic guitar at the fore. While the more lush instrumentation has brought Beach Boys comparisons, they're really not apt. If anything, Field Music sound like the La's concocting XTC in a promising yet unsuccessful art school experiment.
Field Music is a classic case of an album that sounds so good that it takes a while before you realize that there really isn't much going on beneath the surface. The production, by the band's Peter and David Brewis, is warm, pristine and effortless, and by far the album's highlight. The songs, though, generally aren't so great. The guys are apparently allergic to 4/4 rhythms, so everything's a bit herky-jerky. Then you have the staccato, stop-start verses and choruses. The Brewises' voices are pretty enough, hitting high notes that, along with the weird time-signatures, start to sound pretty prog-ish, making sense out of the band's claim to being Peter Gabriel fans. The nervous, yearning delivery, though, is pure Andy Partridge.
On a few tracks, the merchandise is on par with the window dressing. "If Only the Moon Were Up" is a jaunty, punchy piece of pop with great falsetto touches, goofy percussion and horns, and a very Yes-like chorus. "Pieces" shuffles along breezily and even gets in some nice Johnny Marr-style guitar picking. The loping "It's Not the Only Way to Feel Happy" is a nice change of pace, and "Got to Write a Letter" is a love-crazed good time. With a dozen tracks in under 40 minutes, the whole thing may be over before you realize that everything else is sub-par, sometimes even grating. "Tell Me Keep Me", for example, is an awkward attempt at a tougher sound. "17" is an adolescent angst/lust piece that's not nearly as good as Big Star's "Thirteen" or Steely Dan's "Hey Nineteen". The lyrics ponder new relationships, failed relationships, or the lack of relationships altogether, or simply come across as stream-of consciousness. You do get the occasional bit of wit, like "Noticed you're stuck in a rut / Seems like you're taking root".
Field Music leaves you with the impression that the Brewis brothers have a great, pure indie-pop record in them -- one that can fully acknowledge their way with a tune and cater to their more delicate, "arty" side. As it is, they run the risk of being one-band-too-many on a scene that may have already peaked.