A solid, sinister debut from English band of prog-folk folks -- more polished than early demos, but with a greater sense of purpose.
Fields, a new indie/prog/pop band out of the North of England, traffic in acoustic balladry haunted by ghosts and dressed up with healthy doses of driving distortion. The group garnered a fair amount of excitement from the British press surrounding their single, “If You Fail We All Fail” and an accompanying EP last year. The band’s brushed themselves up and polished off the edges for their debut full-length, Everything Last Winter. The polishing’s not all bad, though, as it clarifies the group’s vision of creating complex, prog-inspired folk songs for an industrial life.
If there’s a theme that runs through these alternately sweet, alternately hard-churning songs, it’s the idea of pastoralism undermined by industry. Behind every acoustic guitar arpeggio are the swirling ghosts of prog-guitar effects or the twitter of insects -- even these are inevitably broken down into mechanical churns of industrial noise. Fields’ MOA is fairly straightforward, and fairly constant across Everything Last Winter's songs -- opening with acoustic arpeggios, songs build into hearty Tool-style choruses or extended codas. The difference between the bands, though, is in main vocalist Nick Peill’s layered boy-band harmonies. In this he’s aided by keyboardist Thorunn Antonia, who effectively blends in the high end and may make you fall in love with the band for, well, non-musical reasons. A typical, and well-executed, example is “You Don’t Need this Song”, with its trumpet, glockenspiel-like keyboard effects, and pastoral interlude overtaken by the sound of airplanes -- as if directly rebutting Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly’s assertions over simple folk, Fields is profoundly depressed: “Sing this song like any other on, ‘cos they’re all the same… A simple song’s not enough”.
Well that line could be descriptive of the one major downfall of Everything Last Winter, too. Namely, and understandably given the rigor with which the band sticks to its scary vision of postmodern life, the repeated songwriting formula becomes predictable, and loses some of its power. When the band tries to flatten out songs into more straight industrial rock (as on “The Death”) or even radio rock (on “You Brought This On Yourself”), the momentum quickly drains -- though in that latter song there’s one great line whose outward sweetness masks a brutally callous intent: “If you think you’ve been left on the shelf / I know that you’ve brought this all onto yourself."
It’s in their softer moments, and when the band fully embraces its prog leanings, that their full potential opens up; the results are effective and, occasionally, even thrilling. “Skulls and Flesh and More” expands leisurely over the course of its five minutes’ length, opening with a complex interplay of acoustic sounds, a steamship-beat and twittering bird-calls, and backing up its hefty chorus with a heavy drone. “Charming the Flames” does the same, and primarily works because it avoids obvious melodic tropes on the opened-up, sinister chorus.
If this '90s-style love of prog strikes you as retro that may be true, but Fields obviously doesn't care, and the style generally fits their outlook and songwriting style. And better this than AC/DC again, right? Again, you need patience for this kind of music and a proclivity towards the prog end of the spectrum, because the extended breakdowns and looped themes can seem at first monotonous. Nonetheless, by the time the band indulges they've earned the right to, and as listeners we don’t begrudge them that. It’s a solid effort.