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A review of...

Commontime by Field Music

February 5, 2016
Adam Millard

The gist

A very welcome return, not that they ever really left us

The music

The first time I really "got" field music was at an early evening slot on a small stage at Primavera Festival back in 2012. Until then I'd heard them in passing and seen their glowing reviews on Pitchfork etc but at Primavera it suddenly dawned on me that; 1) there was nobody else at the festival playing music like this, and 2) they were making absolutely no effort to look cool or fit into a scene and were therefore the coolest band there (apart from Shellac). Anyway, from then on, Field Music have had a place in my heart, even if they haven't really released a proper album in the interim. It's not great getting into a band during a hiatus, but luckily for me, they've been pretty active during said career break, whether that be releasing music as a side project ("School of Language"), as a collaboration ("Frozen By Sight") or doing the soundtrack to a 1929 silent documentary ("Music For Drifters"). Living in the North East doesn't do much harm either as I got to see the various band members play some special and increasingly rare live shows, right on my doorstep. So, the excitement building up to the release of Field Music's fifth album proper has been positively palpable in the Crackle office (that's what music journos say isn't it?).

Although Field Music are still very much a duo, in terms of writing and arranging the stuff, this album still manages to cram in their original keyboard player Andrew Moore, along with Jennie Brewis, Liz Corney and other collaborators to form a much more broad ranging LP than a strict duo could ever manage. And from the off this album hits you like a funky dancing juggernaut as "The Noisy Days Are Over" brings us smoothly up to speed with the world of Field Music. It's all minimal guitar parts, odd percussion and soulful drumming, with the Brewis' singing "Why don't you get a job/take a break like everybody else?". Thankfully this is a nugget of advice that the band have wisely ignored (unless you count that hiatus I was talking about earlier). Like a mid 70's Bowie single (there's more than a whiff of Philadelphia soul here), the track seems to cram more into its six and a half minutes than most bands manage over a full album. A highly encouraging start. And I'm pleased to say that the band continue this exemplary standard throughout Commontime's duration, sticking mainly to their nicely honed pop groove.

There are still ample traces of the old Field Music though. The time shifts and sudden key changes are done with gay abandon and, as the album progresses, the band move into more reflective territory (the ballads on this record are at least equal to the upbeat numbers). Yes, it turns out this is the same experimental Field Music you've known but just with a re-invigorated nack for writing pop songs.

In a recent interview with NE Volume the band stated that they "want to move our audience on from just head bobbing to light on-the-spot grooving". It was perhaps a throwaway comment, albeit one made with trademark witty aplomb, but in all honesty Field Music should have no problems getting this sort of response judging from the direction they've taken on this record. Move over head bobbing, and welcome light on-the-spot grooving and even "full-on-all-night-rave-up". After a decade of recording together, Field Music have just made their most appealing album of them all.

Listen to

"Dissapointed" - Nile Rodgers, Squeeze and the Brewis Brothers walked into a bar... and they made sweet sweet music together. That didn't really happen but somehow Field Music have made a 3 minute pop single that wouldn't be out of place in any of their back catalogues.

"Trouble at the Lights" - A song that stands out for being a back to basics Field Music effort, this has all their hallmarks of their earlier prog-like offerings with an ending that references the magnificent multi climaxes at the end of The Beatles' Abbey Road ("You Never Give Me Your Money" et al).

"The Morning Is Waiting For You" - in terms of structure this is probably as simplistic as it gets for the band, but from an arrangement perspective (the lush strings are just mind-blowingly gorgeous) it's an absolute triumph and shows that the band are still as ambitious as ever.