I'm here today to share my opinions on the new Field Music album, Commontime, out Friday, February 5, 2016, on Memphis Industries. This is a difficult task in front of me 'cause I feel sort of torn. If I highlight the positives -- like the wonderfully supple and charming "It's a Good Thing", all Andy Partridge-meets-Steely Dan goodness -- then I'm probably going to do a poor job as a reviewer by mentioning how much of the album, if not disappointed me, at least left me slightly cold. I suppose Commontime is a grower for those of us not firmly in the Field Music camp?
Readers of this blog will remember the joy with which I greeted the Brewis brothers' work in SLUG, but that saw them pushing their own boundaries a bit. Commontime, flawlessly performed and expertly arranged as it may be, does not necessarily force them to take too many risks. One listens to something like "But Not For You" and hears moments to captivate, for sure. The problem is that too many songs here so too similar in tone and temperament. If Field Music are clearly influenced by late period XTC, then imagine if Moulding and co. had produced an entire album's worth of "King for a Day" -- yeah, it's a great single but that doesn't mean that the world needs a full album's worth of the track.
"I'm Glad" pops with admirable fire and there are hints here that Field Music are trying to push things a tiny bit and make at least the drums a bit harder. I suppose one could look at Commontime as a sort of refinement of the Field Music sound. Things here are sleek and little is wasted. The Brewis brothers and their associates have managed to purge a lot of stuff from the sides of their sound. Listening to this and knowing little else that they've done, a listener could be forgiven for thinking that the brothers only owned a few records...all of them by China Crisis, Steely Dan, King Crimson, Little Creatures-era Talking Heads, or XTC.
Now, look, I realize that that sounds like an awesome pool of sounds to whip up together and, okay, on lead single "The Noisy Days are Over" the music takes on an impressive degree of indie-pop bounce. Elsewhere, on the quieter "They Want You To Remember" or "That's Close Enough for Now", things relax and the urgent, propulsive pop seems more heartfelt and human. But, those facts don't make me entirely love the album overall.
Field Music fans are going to find a lot to love on Commontime, and I will too...once I put select tracks from this one on a mix, divorced from the similar-sounding songs on the parent album. I try to only write about stuff I like on this blog, and that's why there aren't too many negative reviews on here. And, really, this is not a negative review, per se, but, rather, an expression of mild disappointment that Field Music continue to make music that's somehow too perfect, and that the wit or spark seems, at least to this listener, to have gone a bit.