There’s a new directness in town. One of the unintended consequences of the EU Referendum, Trump et al, is that musicians and artists are zeroing in on matters social, political and environmental. There’s a strong sense of fear, anger and bewilderment in the air. Many artists have decided to deal with the ongoing shock waves that decisions made on both 23rd June and 8th November 2016, sparked. Previously apolitical people or only those with previously dormant concerns have become energised, delving into a murky world that obviously existed prior to 2016, but which was brought into sharper focus thereafter. Issues of immigration, racism, nationalism, poverty, wealth inequality, nuclear brinkmanship, ecology, and the problematic capitalist engine that is the so-called neo-liberalism have become much more explicit in the writings of artists and writers in all fields. Even pop-rockers, like the Brewis brothers. They have seemingly surprised even themselves at how their concerns have changed. Musically, too, Field Music have become leaner, tighter and funkier, whilst retaining their pop-friendly melodicism and art-rock adventurism that recalls the likes of Talking Heads, King Crimson, 70s prog, Sparks, new wave, The Beatles, Prince, and taking us to the here and now, Metronomy.
Based in Sunderland, multi-instrumentalists Peter and David Brewis have been making music together since their teens, initially making a big mark with the Tones of Town album in 2007, and then the Mercury-nominated Plumb in 2012. There’s always been a semi-playful musicality about Field Music, but the aforementioned recent political events – alongside the fact that Sunderland is regarded as a capital of Brexit (insofar as this place, like at General Elections, is the first to call a result) – it’s hardly a surprise, this change of emphasis on song content. It’s there on tracks that dwell on attitudes to immigration, privilege and sleepless nights, but also on gender stereotypes. For instance, on the personal diary-like 21st century prog of ‘Checking On A Message’, which according to David is, “About being too confident that world events will go the way you expect them to. And then getting bad news from a mobile phone”. On David’s ‘Count It Up’, which shadows David Byrne’s ‘Once In A Lifetime’, albeit this time it’s more of a litany of modern prejudices, life problems and social ills are wrapped up in free-flowing complexity: “If you can go through day-to-day without the fear of violence, count that up / If people don’t stare at you in the street because of the colour of your skin, count that up”.
It all kicks off, however, with the cheery ‘Time In Joy’, driven by drums and funky bass with some added flute, courtesy of Sarah Hayes, and choppy rhythm and visceral lead guitar. “Is sympathy too serious a thing to take seriously?” Peter asks, before asserting that there is “nothing else so deep as time and joy.” Other guests on Open Here include The Cornshed Sisters’ Liz Corney on vocals, Pete Fraser on saxophone, Simon Dennis on trumpet and flugelhorn, a string quartet, all involved for much of the album, on tracks largely written individually by the brothers, who then act in effect as ‘assistants’ on each other’s tracks.
Parenthood is another ‘new’ running theme throughout. Particularly via album highlight ‘Share A Pillow’, which deals with – in the case of David – very young things whilst trying to map out a living as a musician. It’s got that early and lively 70s New York-era John Lennon, heavily reverberated voice atop stomping glam, and replete with harmonies and horns. The stuttering trumpet-infused funk of ‘No King No Princess’ sees David getting annoyed about gender stereotypes that people try and apply to his own kids (one and three), and singing to them that they can throw all those expectations out of the window if they should so desire.
Field Music also take some detours down more pastoral and melancholy avenues. On the short but sweet minimalism of ‘Front of House’, it’s all strings, piano and clattering drums, as Peter says goodbye to a departed good friend. Then there’s the Eleanor Rigby staccato strings of the title track, about growing up and facing the world. It’s here, as elsewhere, that Field Music explicitly reveal themselves to be more emotional, and rawer than ever before on record. Opening up, as it were.
They also get their Prince on for ‘Goodbye To The Country’, founded on taut bass and sprightly rhythm guitar, with rapid-fire guitar lines and funky percussion adding some juice to proceedings, while album closer ‘Find A Way To Keep Me’ heads towards an optimistic euphoria, strings, flute and trumpet eventually gelling into a grand pop finale.
Open Here is a triumph, their best one yet. Pretty much gone are the days when they would indulge in overly complex, less-than-fluid arrangements, and abstract lyricism. Now barely a note is wasted. The overall sound is richer and funkier, a rich and satisfying feast of rhythmic interplay, via both voices and instrumentation, with loads of small and engaging moments of musical inventiveness dotted throughout. It adds up to a whole heap of aromatic spiciness. However, it’s never over powering, nor indulgent, the Brewis brothers providing many passages of restraint which only adds to the brilliant dynamic range alongside their new found personal and worldly concerns.