The art-rock band Field Music – formed of brothers Peter and David Brewis – have taken on several guises over the past few years. On their 2018 album Open Here, the Sunderland musicians wrote songs that situated them distinctly in the post-Brexit malaise: their hometown was the first to declare that it had voted for Leave in the 2016 referendum, and the Brewises, inspired by fatherhood to develop a new-found connection to politics, responded with a record that seemed to take the result personally. “I’m sure it’ll be good fun/Making money at your kids’ expense/To a place where everything’s easy/Feeding my baby with stamps,” they sang on “Goodbye to the Country”.
Then, in January 2020, they released Making a New World, a strange, ultra-conceptual album that took them right out of the current moment. The songs were first composed for an Imperial War Museum project and considered the after-effects of the First World War. The album was wide-ranging and sophisticated in its subject matter, but listening to it felt jarring and confusing: were Field Music still interested in writing catchy songs, you wondered, or had they got bored of being one of the few bands still lurking from the mid-2000s heyday of guitar-led indie pop, and side-stepped right into the avant-garde?
Flat White Moon confirms that that was just a digression. On their eighth studio album, the pair have returned to what they’re best at: writing heartfelt pop tunes about everyday matters. That isn’t to say that this record is mundane – for Field Music’s charm has always been their jolty guitar melodies, sing-along vocals and novel instrumentation. And all of these pleasing attributes feature heavily here.
On “Do Me a Favour”, the Brewis brothers sing together in harmony. “When you are out there/With no one to hold on to/You’ll be strong enough,” they croon with a light touch, “enough” fluttering over four syllables. It’s one of the album’s most straightforward songs, but an exemplum of the duo’s sharp songwriting and crisp production. The acoustic guitars lose none of their acrylic twang even over rolling drums, while both brothers’ voices feel pleasingly elastic in their ability to twist and stretch.
The influence of the Beatles is felt more than ever before. It’s always been there in the charming, bright-boy ordinariness to the Brewises’ vocals – both brothers have tones not all too different from Paul McCartney’s, save for the different regional accents. But here there are also shards of Lennon and McCartney-esque writing in the string-led “When You Last Heard from Linda”, whose off-kilter melancholy makes it sound like a Revolver B-side. “How could she leave you/When you needed her so/Do you think she knew?” ends the track, a despondent meditation on grown-up loneliness. Album opener “Orion from the Street” sits somewhere between “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and the nursery rhyme “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”, its quasi-hallucinogenic quality making the song the vaguest, most impressionistic, on the record – and one of the bleakest: “A wish to fall in the deepest sleep/If death is but a dream.”
Between these snappy melodies and quirky riffs lies a darker sensibility. Field Music’s inherent playfulness (most evident in the smallest of musical ideas – the “ooh la-la-la” of “No Pressure”, and the Beach Boys-reminiscent call and response of “Invisible Days”) rubs up against the often obscure sadness of their lyrics, which speak of loss and grief, and the strange guilt of dealing with those experiences while having to get on with the social interactions that come with each new day. The bubbling synths of “The Curtained Room” brighten the track, even though its lyrics weigh heavy like a eulogy. A maraca leads “Meant to Be”, almost disguising the despair at its heart: “Never was I the boy I was meant to be.”
It’s this tension that makes Field Music’s writing so intriguing and so perfectly human – and proves that to hang an album over a concept, or even to attempt to mark a specific time and place with songs, is not necessarily to make a record more believable. It’s the Brewises’ day-to-day matter-of-factness that makes Flat White Moon so warm.
[See also: Kate Mossman reviews Sharon Van Etten’s Epic Ten]