While preparing to write a review of Field Music’s latest album Measure, I went back to see what other Dusted writers had said about Field Music. Malini Sridharan review of 2007’s Tones of Town seems rather peculiar to me. A lot of the review is spent calling them derivative – though without saying precisely what they are derivative of – and bland, which is fine as there’s no accounting for taste or interpretation, but which nevertheless comes off as uncharitable. Glancing around the web as well, there is a lot of easy reference – namechecking the possible XTC influence – and stabs at nomenclature – art-pop’s as good as anything – but there isn’t a lot of discussion on why they’re interesting or why they’re worthwhile. Perhaps the consensus is that they’re neither. Sridharan certainly thinks so. This may be a superficial reading of the kind of music they make however.
Field Music is a precise band. The music they make is rigorous. While perhaps they may have taken their cues from XTC, it’s just as likely that, like Soderbergh’s Solaris, they are reacting to the source, minimalist composition itself. At this historical moment, a lot of minimalism is being filtered into pop music, so it’s not a far off supposition. So, precise and rigorous. Not rigid, but perhaps particular. Specific. Or structurally strict like an English boarding school. At the same time, there is a disparateness to the music. Melody lines and instruments seem barely held together with no center or gravity diffused through each song to make it coalesce.
What’s interesting about Field Music is that they make this work. A lot of times, this strategy ends in songs that end up being too airy, too full of space. When there is no unifying force, a significant part of the time, the disparate elements never cohere. Each melodic line occurs on its own, one just incidentally next to the other without them feeding off each other. However, Field Music keeps the music from falling apart like this by using that tension to hold the songs together. At any moment, it feels like one of their songs could fracture, but they never do. The space fills up with that tension then, the tension between the possibility of breaking and the actuality of never breaking. Between this tension, their proficiency with harmonies, and their ability to write catchy melodies, each song has a fullness to it that seems at odds with its airy nature.
If there is a criticism to be made of Measure, it is the standard criticism of the double album. I’m wary of double albums in the same way I’m wary about Robert Pollard releasing everything that wanders out of his brain. Few people can sustain creativity over a 10-song, 40-minute album, let alone two of them at once. While it has been three years since Field Music released Tones, 20 songs nevertheless strain both a listener’s willingness to give a band its time and the band’s ability to fill up 72 minutes worth of space. Field Music can certainly use each song’s inherent tension to keep each song coherent, but over two album’s worth of music, that tension is diluted, and the songs tend to run into each other. There are certainly standouts, but all that shows is that they might have been better off crafting an excellent solitary album rather than a rather decent double one.