In his 1917 essay “The Revolution Against Capital,” Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci remarks, “In capitalist terms, North America is more advanced than England, because the Anglo-Saxons in North America took off at once from the level England had reached only after long evolution.” The point is made because he goes on to explain the advantage the Russian proletariat has thanks to England’s working class evolution in that area. Evolution can do a lot for music presently being made, as well.
On their new, second album, Sunderland’s Field Music craft an audio achievement that is dually an historic nod to smart pop bands before them (XTC, the Beatles) and a modern triumph in concise and catchy English songwriting in the vein of the Futureheads and Maxïmo Park (two bands they are grouped with due to location and past member-switching). The trio produces a sound that goes beyond the limitations of the angular guitar-and-drums quirky punk-pop of their Sunderland brethren. Often employing strings to enhance the aesthetics without distracting the subtle qualities of their sound, Field Music create tunes such as “In Context,” the first single off Tones of Town. “Everyone takes their place for you / Each one accepts their little part,” gently sings David Brewis, one half of the songwriting team with his brother Peter. The verses are constant, slow builds to the chorus, which is not unlike something found on Reubens Accomplice’s debut album, I Blame the Scenery.
The album feels loaded with singles, though, and another one is “Working to Work,” a lazy lament about -- you guessed it -- the endless work cycle one finds himself in. However, the song is so fused with stop-and-start XTC-like guitar-and-vocal interplay that the subject matter could be the most inane thing and still sound fantastic. Fans of the Futureheads will love the song, too, as it could have rested alongside anything off their great 2006 album, News & Tributes. Where Field Music outwit the ‘Heads is on a track such as “Kingston,” a piano-led meditation on little regrets that might be an indication of what it would have sounded like had Lennon and McCartney kept making music through the `80s, beautiful harmonies included.
If Field Music does anything for music today, though, Tones of Town presents a possibility for a larger scope and imagination in pop songwriting. The band has ideas: In the Winter `07 issue of Filter, Brewis is quoted saying, “I can’t play saxophone, but if I can hear a saxophone in a song, we do it.” The music can come off as so sophisticated, in fact, that it may be challenging for some. The complexity is just the result of very accomplished musicianship, a group of players who simplify the structure without sacrificing very satisfying details. The group shows excellent reserve that can be heard when one or all instruments drop from the mix and let their wonderful harmonies do the talking. And boy, can these guys sing.
Though it seems as if Field Music is into playing into their Englishness (in the press photos for the Filter article, they are wearing the same robes-and-wigs garb that XTC used to pose in, after all), they produce the kind of music that sounds as though it could instantly be successful played to enough people. They throw curveballs, sure: the a capella/beatbox breakdown at the end of “Sit Tight,” the constant tempo changes on the title track, for examples. But the execution sounds effortless on Tones, and when a band does not sound forced to make an album this good, the listening pleasure is easier.