Field Music’s new double LP, (Measure), is both a glorious riposte to those who would seek to write an obituary for the album format, and a further confirmation of the band’s extraordinary knack for melodic, angular pop. TM-Online's David Davies caught up with co-founder Peter Brewis to talk about the need to support the long-player and the joy of hanging out with famous fan Al Kooper
The album is dead, certain commentators are fond of telling us over and over again. Ten or twelve songs and a continuous sequence of 40 minutes or more? Pah – it’s a relic of the past like the 78 or the wax cylinder in the ultra-convenient era of the digital download. There are too many obligations and distractions, they insist, for anyone to sit down and really immerse themselves in one body of work for an extended period of time.
Fortunately for those of who treasure certain LPs as sustained musical experiences – can anyone really imagine taking a bite-sized approach to Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden or Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, for example? – some artists are still keeping the faith in the idea of an album as an album. One group firmly in this camp is Field Music, whose latest release, Field Music (Measure), comprises not one, but two extended song-sequences that defy you to touch the skip or fast-forward button. While the first disc of the double-set features ten concise songs – all meticulously-arranged gems that will resonate with anyone who thinks the XTC/Scritti Politti/Blue Nile ‘school’ is about as good as British pop music ever got – the second incorporates found sounds and elements of musique concrète into a more dramatic, ambitious cycle that is nonetheless eminently melodic and accessible.
Peter Brewis – Field Music co-founder alongside brother and fellow vocalist/multi-instrumentalist David – admits there was an element of “mischief” in creating an artefact as inherently unfashionable as a double album. “We used to be so nervous about editing ourselves and felt that we had to cut everything down to ensure we didn’t outstay our welcome. But this time we really wanted to push ourselves to do something long,” he says. “The other factor was the idea of the album format. Whether we like it or not, it is kind of losing its place in the hierarchy of recorded music, so we thought that if we are going to make an album, let’s make something that is very definitely an album. Something that might be too long or could even be considered pretty pretentious, but we were fine with that. We're quite ready for a slagging-off...”
In fact, they have received nothing of the sort, with Field Music (Measure) registering four and five star reviews across the board since its release in February. And no wonder: across nearly 80 minutes, the album is a dazzling celebration of melodic ingenuity and old-fashioned songcraft. From the intricate guitar figure that underpins the title song, through the catchy rhythmic clunk-and-click of ‘Let’s Write A Book’, to the evocative soundscapes that populate closing track ‘It’s About Time’, (Measure) is built for repeated listening.
Notably quieter than many current releases, the album boasts an attractively earthy sound that, in part, is a response to the modern tendency to over-compress music to make it sound loud on radio and download compilations. “I was listening to some Prince CDs, and they are very quiet but sound great. You turn them up and they have such a range of dynamics, it’s fantastic,” says Peter, who with his brother co-produces/engineers all of Field Music’s work at their Eight Music studio in Sunderland.
Despite a raft of recent spin-off projects (Peter’s The Week That Was, David’s School of Language) and the fact that they have just issued 20 new songs, the brothers are already eager to return to the studio. In reality, they face a further eight or nine months of playing live (including a June show as part of Richard Thompson’s Meltdown), but if the road should pall from time to time there is always the chance that they may get to catch up with one of their famous fans, who include legendary Dylan sideman and Super Session-er Al Kooper. “He has been really supportive,” says Peter. “He is one of those guys who trawls iTunes every day because he is such a great polymath and really interested in new music. He emailed us to say he really liked our music in about 2005 and we have been in touch ever since. The last time we were in Boston, he was playing us tracks he had just discovered and asking us for our opinion about the remastering of his solo albums... He has been very encouraging from day one and things like that really make a difference.”
Field Music (Measure) is out now on Memphis Industries. Field Music play Richard Thompson’s Meltdown at London’s Royal Festival Hall on June 15; for more tour dates, see