Saturday, February 25, 2012

ALBUM REVIEW: Field Music - Plumb

By Steve Jones.

Plumb is the 4th album from UK band Field Music, the pop project of brothers David and Peter Brewis.

One of my favorite moments in music is easily the side two medley of Abbey Road.  The suite of songs, which flow seamlessly into one another, was in my opinion the pinnacle of The Beatles' career.  The songs were short, but stuffed to bursting with sounds and ideas, and taken as more than the sum of their parts they achieved a profound beauty.  I'm starting the review this way so that you understand what I mean when I say Field Music's Plumb is akin to Abbey Road's side two medley, but expanded into an entire album.

Plumb is the perfect pop album for people currently disillusioned about the state of the pop album.  It has all of the ingredients--layers of catchy melodies, strong musicianship, interesting arrangements, an overall digestibility--but its construction is refreshing.  Whereas the majority of pop will take one good hook and vamp around it for four minutes, Field Music throws out a song idea and barely gives the listener enough time to savor it before moving onto the next idea.  The first five minutes of the album contain sufficient material for a full-length by any lesser band, but Field Music continues sprinting through melodies, grooves, and time signatures all through its 15 tracks over 36 minutes.  Some critics may dismiss this as too many ideas in too short a time.  Personally, I relish in this flavor of micropop.  I would be remiss, though, not to mention the presence of tracks like "A New Town" and "(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing," which do stick to a more traditional pop song structure, but still manage to be inventive ear worms.

The sound of Plumb is very rich and baroque in the style I do so enjoy.  Peter and David cover the traditional drums, bass, guitar, and piano, but also present are synths, violins, a cello, a trumpet, and a clarinet.  I'm particularly a fan of how the drums are mixed.  They have a wonderfully crisp punch to them, which does well to accent the other instruments.  Each track possesses a distinctive arrangement too, ranging from the clockwork intertwining of drums, guitar, and bass in "Who'll Pay the Bill?" to the gorgeous piano and strings of "From Hide and Seek to Heartache" to the a cappella chills of "How Many More Times?"

It's easy and tempting to lump this record into the realm of art pop or progressive pop.  Both labels are certainly valid, considering the constant evolution of the songs, the stunning vocal harmonies, and the occasional lapse into 7/4 time.  However, these genres as they are commonly understood don't convey the purveying sense of humanity that Plumb communicates.  There's a belief that sincerity can only come from a voice, and guitar, and a four-track recording, and that as soon as you add a string section and wonky time signatures you forfeit any subtlety.  Well, that's bullshit, and Plumb is proof of that.  The lyrics grabbed me on my first listen, which is a rare thing.  The stories told are all very down to earth, and, given the way the album flows, I cannot help but imagine it staged as a working class drama.  For me, Plumb is all about the overwhelmingly destructive power of stagnation.  Although the narratives provide little resolution, catharsis is instead found in the music itself, which is anything but stagnant and complacent.

Plumb is a true album's album, meant to be consumed from start to finish.  At only 36 minutes, that is easy to do, and, like me, you probably will be compelled to listen through it again as soon as you finish.  This record is easily Field Music's best effort to date, and its combination of memorability, musical prowess, and tone make it nearly a perfect album for me.  To give you an idea of how good it is, it was the album that finally dragged me away from playing Skyrim.  In fact, I think the most disappointing things about it are 1) that it is not longer, and 2) that I did not get the plum-colored vinyl version of it.  Those are about my only complaints.

Plumb will easily be at the front of my memory when 2012 draws to a close, and I foresee it sticking around much further beyond as one of my all-time favorite albums.  It is proof that pop music can be subversive and interesting without sacrificing immediacy and heart.

Score: Decent 9

(Steve Jones is practically giving these 9's away these days. Tell him over Twitter about some music he'll hate.)


  1. Agreed. Perhaps the best record from Field Music yet. Here's to more great melodies and FANTASTIC production from the Brewises in the years to come!