Review by Tim Sendra
The recording hiatus of Field Music left lovers of intelligent, endlessly hooky, and interesting modern guitar pop feeling kind of empty. After all, the group had only recorded two albums and was really just hitting its stride, it seemed. Luckily, the bandmembers haven't ditched music altogether and plan to work together in various ways in the future, keeping the Field Music name as a production company. The first product of their continued alliance is School of Language, singer/guitarist David Brewis' solo project. Apart from a tiny bit of help on guitar and backing vocals, Brewis is responsible for every sound on the album and, much to the relief of anyone lamenting the end of the band, every sound he makes could have been taken straight off a Field Music album. Sea from Shore is perhaps less polished and sleek than Tones of Town, but it shares the same precise use of instrumentation, the same amount of melodic invention, the same warmth and restrained emotion, and -- perhaps most importantly -- Brewis' wonderfully elastic and rich vocals. As with any Field Music record, there is a sense of daring and exploration throughout Sea from Shore that is both exciting and comforting. From the opening "Rockist, Pt. 1," which uses loops of Brewis' cut-up vocals, and then all throughout the record, Brewis is never content to just strum through the chord changes. Instead, there are shimmering stabs of piano, off-kilter rhythms, clattering percussion, and gently jarring guitar riffs that keep the listener off-guard and interested. Yet all the sonic trickery Brewis employs never detracts from the songs, letting the reliably stunning melodies shine through clearly. There are songs here that compare favorably to past triumphs -- the four-part "Rockist" (which may be the hookiest song he's written yet), the pocket epic "Ships," and the restrained and lovely ballad "Keep Your Water," to name a few -- and show that Brewis has lost none of his knack for writing pop songs that truly have some pop in them. Sea from Shore could have been a huge letdown, but instead is another wonderful record from the increasingly trustworthy Field Music family.
School of Language
Sea From Shore
[Thrill Jockey; 2008]
Field Music's Tones of Town was a highlight of 2007, and the group's star seemed to be on the rise. But when the Sunderland, England band played the Empty Bottle in Chicago last spring, something didn't quite seem right. The music-- a herky-jerk mix reminiscent of XTC-- sounded perfectly fine, but the trio, flitting between instruments, didn't appear to be taking any real pleasure or satisfaction from it. At one point David Brewis even announced, apologetically, that the only way to get the "real" Field Music experience was via its meticulously composed recordings.
Granted, the group preceded the tour by announcing it would be followed by an extended hiatus, during which Field Music's three members would explore other projects, so as far as the crowd (clearly enjoying what Brewis considered somehow substandard) knew, Tones of Town was the last they'd hear from Field Music. The faithful needn't fret, though, as Brewis' debut as School of Language, Sea From Shore ("a Field Music production," apparently; out on Feb. 5) should satisfy fans of Field Music's tightly wound pop. Recorded mostly solo, with some scattered help from a couple of fellow Sunderlanders in the Futureheads, Sea From Shore is a lot like taking a peek at a talented someone's sketch book.
The disc begins with the intriguingly titled "Rockist Part 1" and "Rockist Part 2" (parts 3 and 4 bookend the disc), though neither overtly relates to any sort of loaded "rockist" (or anti-rockist) ideology. "Part 1" is built around a stereo loop of what sounds like Brewis enunciating a series of vowels, on top of which Brewis layers buoyant bass, simple drums and a charming little guitar pattern that both bolsters and plays against his wistful vocal melody. "Part 2" works almost like a dramatically discordant deconstruction of "Part 1".
"Disappointment '99" features Futurehead David Craig on vocals, and were the track not so willfully dirty and distorted, all of Craig's and Brewis' new-wave affectations would be right at the fore. "Poor Boy" similarly benefits from a considered anti-perfectionist streak, with Brewis subverting the sharp arrangement and catchy melody with an almost devil may care casualness.
After so much anxiousness, the initially acoustic rumination "Keep Your Water" finally downshifts a little until School of Language's pop-prog affectations again rear their head. "Marine Life" and "Ships" find some middle ground between XTC's Andy Partridge and a more pacific songwriter like Robert Wyatt, willfully weird but far from placid. Indeed, the twisted "This Is No Fun" belies its title with an utterly nuts arrangement, while the dueling pitter patter of percussion percolates as counterpart to the outer-reaches explorations of "Extended Holiday".
"Rockist Part 3 (Aposiopesis)"-- it means to break off mid-sentence-- brings back a variation of the pulsing vocal loop from "Part 1" and "Part 2," here invoked as a more traditional underpinning to a just slightly left of traditional art-rock track. "Rockist Part 4", on the other hand, recognizes that the quirky hooks of "Part 1" were too good to fully part with, working as both reprise and conceptual closer, right down to the drawn out guitar freak-out that ends the track and album.
Admittedly, for anyone wondering if School of Language rises above the level of side project, there's still the matter of that pesky "Field Music production" tag, which implies Brewis himself sees School of Language as somewhat peripheral. But the relatively quick turnaround between Tones of Town and Sea From Shore implies Brewis was serious about opening the creative tap wide and seeing what flows out. If everything he (or his once and future bandmates, for that matter) releases stays at this level, that enigmatic Field Music hiatus might just stretch on and on a little longer.
-Joshua Klein, January 15, 2008