The sleevenotes of Field Music’s current album, Plumb, which is their fourth, sort of, contain a very Nick-friendly statement:
“In order to preserve sonic fidelity, this record has been mastered using significantly less compression and limiting than most contemporary records. For maximum listening pleasure, please turn your stereo system UP!”
I bought Field Music’s eponymous debut album back in 2005, listened to it once or twice, and filed it away, too overwhelmed that year by Bloc Party, Patrick Wolf, British Sea Power and Roots Manuva to really take in anything else. I didn’t think of them again until November last year, when I moved into an office with a room-mate who likes to listen to 6music. I now also like to listen to 6music (admittedly so that I can moan about how often they play There She Goes by The La’s, or Slight Return by The Bluetones).
One of the first (new) songs I noticed on 6music was (I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing, which seemed to get pretty heavy rotation around Christmas time, and which infuriatingly reminded me of about 3 or 4 different things that I couldn’t quite place. I’ve since concluded that one of these things is the big, crashing, dramatic chord turns of Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, and I remain convinced that one of the others is a brief moment from Forever Changes, though I can’t identify which bit.
That the other reminder is a vague sense of British postpunks aiming for krautish repetition is a deal-sealer for me; the first two signifiers on their own could make for a boring, melody-festishist retro soup, but a squeeze of Germanic rhythm makes for just enough juxtaposition to keep things interesting.
A couple of months later, another Field Music song caught my attention on 6music; second single A New Town didn’t seem a million miles away from (I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing, but had enough of a different aura to not be a rehash (and, frankly, some astonishing drumming). I was intrigued for an album, and a couple of days after Plumb was released, curiosity got the better of me and I picked it up from HMV on the way home. I’ve become suspicious of indie guitar albums released in the first few weeks of the year, as they often seem to be over-hyped, “nothing else to write about” releases strategised by record labels to garner maximum attention for minimum content (hello Maccabees).
But Plumb wasn’t that at all. 15 songs in 35 minutes suggests schizophrenia, but The Beatles managed it time after time, and, frankly, I’m very much in favour of artists having ideas and using them, as long as they don’t over-use them; Plumb manages that, with aplomb. As hinted at by those two singles, it’s a little bit of postpunk groove, a little bit of post-McCartney melody, and a whole lot of really gorgeous songs and smart lyrics. There’s a whiff of prog in there perhaps too, from some arrangements being lavished with strings and pianos and brass (and occasionally a vocal melody and delivery, as on A Prelude To Pilgrim Street) which are redolent of Pink Floyd or ELO, to changes of time-signature and direction that can leave your head spinning; but it’s a very poppy type of prog, a little British music hall, maybe. Think Abbey Road, I suppose.
It’s also something about the way that the songs often run into each other, something about vocal or orchestral interludes (I do not use the term pejoratively in the slightest, by the way) like How Many More Times? and Ce Soir (which could be Final Fantasy to start). Every song has something interesting, or, quite often, deeply affecting about it, at the very least; often both together, like on Just Like Everyone Else, which combines a tight krautrock pulse with a combination of words and delivery that puts a lump at the base of my oesophagus every time. Likewise Choosing Sides, which puts choppy guitars and drums underneath the lyrics “I want a different / idea of what better can be / which doesn’t necessitate / having more useless shit”, like The Communist Manifesto updated by Mike Leigh for Cameron’s posh-obsessed, Barbour-clad, petrol-hoarding Great Britain.
Maybe it’s my age, but the imploring exhortation that “I won’t play up to it / I won’t play ignorant” gets me. Plumb feels like a very principled album, which makes total sense when you realise the band started existence as part of an arts cooperative that also spawned Maximo Park and The Futureheads, but which doesn’t exist anymore, thanks to funding cuts. (That Guardian piece gives an insight into the band’s ideological ethos and approach to music making, which is also amazingly refreshing.)
I’ve been hammering Plumb since I picked it up; despite the acclaim for John Talabot, Grimes, and Blondes (all of which I really like), and the pleasant distractions of Django Django and Portico Quartet and Beth Jeans Houghton, and the anticipation of forthcoming records by Orbital and Chromatics, I can’t see anything displacing it as my favourite record of the year. Despite its brevity there’s a huge amount to take in, and if anything that brevity makes it seem more dense; fascinating moments are gone almost before you’ve caught hold of them, imploring you to press play again as soon as the record’s finished.
And, as suggested by that statement in the sleevenotes, the whole thing sounds amazing as well, drums and guitars alive and exciting, rhythms and bass warm and compulsive; there are dramatic swoops and moments of intense intimacy, sonic flourishes and subtleties that give a tremendous sense of the creators of this record really caring about what they’re doing. The groove of A New Town, when you open it up on CD away from the broadcast compression of 6music, is like warm water. It’s extraordinary.
So taken am I with Plumb that I’ve picked up the interim Field Music albums that I missed – Tones Of Town and Measure – but I’ve been too besotted with their current offering to really delve into them. Or the old Simple Minds, Smiths, Roxy Music and Destroyer albums I’ve picked up this year. Plumb makes me want to buy another band t-shirt.