You Tell Me – You Tell Me

Out of the starting blocks with one of the first albums of the year, comes the delightful progressive folk-orchestral pop sounds of You Tell Me, a collaboration between Field Music’s Peter Brewis, and Admiral Fallow’s Sarah Hayes.

Peter, along with his brother David, have been producing music under the Field Music moniker for well over a decade now, releasing a stream of arty pop-rock albums for the Memphis Industries label, their last one, Open Here, achieving their highest chart placing yet. Full of short but sweet ‘pop’ songs, high on melody, and tight dynamic forays that amalgamate strings with your basic rock combo format of drums, guitars and bass, the brothers’ informed knowledge of music history, and their multi-instrumental flair have consistently knocked critics for six.

Meanwhile Sarah Hayes’ classical and folk background (she was nominated for three years running for the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards) and her complete devotion to music making across the board, informs her on-going work with indie-folkers Admiral Fallow, whilst continuing her exploration of traditional folk within contemporary settings.

The pair first met at a Kate Bush celebration concert, at which they were both performing, and working together on Asunder, a collaboration between Warm Digits and Field Music which soundtracked footage of Sunderland during WW1. During this time Hayes brought some of her first songwriting attempts to Peter, their collaboration leading to this self-titled debut album, recorded at Field Music HQ, and the last one to be made there before the Brewis brothers moved last year. Merging the new found lyricism of Hayes with Brewis’ typically fluid Field Music approach – where less is more, but within a subtly shifting landscape of syncopated beats, orchestral flourishes, top drawer melodies, and an experimental bent – You Tell Me’s music is grounded within a shifting semi-theatrical meets art-rock approach.

With influences spanning 70s folk-rock, Talking Heads, Kate Bush, glam-pop, and The Beatles, You Tell Me bears the musical stamp of Field Music throughout, but with Hayes’ songs and lyrics (she also contributes music, while Brewis also contributes lyrics) providing new angles, a loose theme of “The subject of communication – talking and listening, guessing and questioning,” informing the album.

On flowering lead track ‘Enough To Notice’, the pair share voices atop snaking bass, stabbing keys, and shimmering arpeggio guitar. While the funky acoustic guitar pop of ‘Get Out of the Room’ ever-so-slowly builds on the tension of the troubled relationship sentiments of the lyric. Hayes then takes lead vocal on the theatrical orchestral pop of ‘Foreign Parts’, while Brewis leads on the light office romance of ‘Water Cooler’, a stuttering Talking Heads rhythm at its heart. “And if there’s a moment when the water runs true, you’ll be finding out who you’re going to be,” sings Brewis, in the typically philosophical-meets-homely narrative of Brewis.

You Tell Me simplify things on both the chamber pop of ‘Jouska’ – which equates to a hypothetical conversation that you compulsively play out in your head, Hayes repeating the line: “Everything was meant, everything was clear” – and the gorgeous Joni Mitchell-meets-Kate Bush piano balladry of ‘Springburn’, Hayes’ rich vocal line beautifully balanced against the minimal instrumentation. Meanwhile, ‘No Hurry’ is slow and sombre at first, before Brewis’ George Harrison-esque cascading slide guitar momentarily interjects awakenings within the deeply melancholic cracks of the song, before fading almost imperceptibly to its conclusion.

‘Clarion Call’ merges baroque influences with gentle folk, Hayes’ lyrics depicting a springing into action, forging ahead, and looking for that elusive ‘something’, much like the birdsong-inspired title. While Michael Nyman’s repetitive piano style is a feature of ‘Invisible Ink’, replete with typewriter tapping beats, and a subtle melodic undertow.

You Tell Me have forged something bright and bold, a work that largely marries the personal lyricism of Hayes, with the production and multi-instrumentalist skills of Brewis. Low key on the surface, less grand than what we are used to with Field Music, and recorded in a very short space of time, it is still full to the brim with sparklingly short and inventive orchestral-pop vignettes that place melody at the forefront. A minor triumph.

Jeff Hemmings