The extensive title of Field Medic’s new album – grow your hair long if you’re wanting to see something that you can change – is a roundabout way of describing the powerlessness that the artist feels in his life. It’s this limp, defeated persona that is brought to bear across the nine tracks of the album – yet he does it in such an honest, humorous and melodious way that we resonate with it, even if we happen to be going through a positive patch in our own lives.
Field Medic, real name Kevin Patrick Sullivan, takes no time in revealing his nihilism on the album, commencing the opener “Always Emptiness” with the line: “I wanna fall off the face of the Earth and probably die.” It’s an uncompromising introduction, but anyone who’s suffered bouts of debilitating depression will immediately identify with the urge. They should also recognise the insertion of the word “probably” in there too; it’s not a certainty that he will die. Sullivan may act like he has absolutely no desire left to live, but there’s almost always a little spark of resistance deep down in the pit, an ember that doesn’t go out – an urge to keep going despite the weight of everything. Even in his most blackened moods, Sullivan still has this tiny flame of hope, and it’s the key ingredient in making his songs more than simply harbingers of personal doom.
While Sullivan may profess that his area of influence doesn’t extend beyond his hairline, that still means that he has power over the most important parts of his existence: his mind, body and soul. And he’s already proven that he has strength within himself, having kicked addictions to the curb and going sober. However, while those substances may not literally enter his body any longer, he can’t prevent their temptation from entering his thoughts, and this is a constant source of inspiration across grow your hair long.
In a way, Sullivan is lucky that he has an outlet like music to channel his debilitating cravings into – and he uses it to the utmost here. He creates several songs that deflect his downbeat moods with upbeat arrangements and production, creating intriguing alt-pop nuggets. “Weekends are the hardest part” he confesses on the bouncing country-inflected jam “Weekends”, lamenting those days when he has nobody to see and nothing to do except roll cigarettes and wallow. The buoyant “I Had A Dream That You Died” is awash in synths layered over a percolating drum machine, and the song reveals itself to be about his sub-conscious sending himself a message to keep going and not give in. Along the way, he manages to compare himself to a chia pet and confess to suicidal ideations within the space of a few lines, perfectly reflecting his idiosyncratic mindset.
The gliding country dreamer “i think about you all the time” is indeed a straight-up love song – but it’s written from Sullivan to alcohol. That said, it doesn’t diminish the song’s loveliness, which features imagery like “you tumble like an acrobat through my dreams at night” and “when I hear your voice in whisper / it feels to me like leisure”, and because he doesn’t explicitly mention booze in the track it functions perfectly as a devotional, ready to be put on a mixtape for your crush.
However, if you are like me and want to lean into the sadness, it’s the songs where Sullivan lets gloom reign that resonate the strongest. The second half of grow your hair long is packed with these tracks; it seems like a choice to have split the record into two halves, the first with the upbeat downers, the second with the purely dejected. Some people may question this sequencing choice, but a bout of depression is hard to shake off, so stringing together the heavier tracks imitates this leaden state.
The heartbreaking “house arrest” is adorned with golden acoustic guitar and bubbling electronic tones, creating a lullaby atmosphere for Sullivan to soothe himself, to try to accept that he can’t erase his past mistakes and all he can do is stay strong and hope for a brighter tomorrow. On “miracle/marigold”, Sullivan finds himself drawn into a “terrible, hysterical situation” that only a miracle can retrieve him from. He doesn’t specify the circumstances, but the weight of his burden is transferred through the weeping pedal steel, his voice and the admission that “You know that it’s bad / When you don’t really believe in god / But evеry night you close your eyes and pray.”
Far from the happy ending that Sullivan surely deserves, closing track “i had my fun/back to the start” finds him evaluating his situation honestly (“I had my fun til my fun turned into humiliation and a suicide scare”), not finding any resolution but to “long to go back to the start”. It might not seem like a fulfilling finale, but the sheer fact that Sullivan can now accept all the bad he’s done to himself and to others – and confess it to the world through song – is progress.
To record and release an album like this is an act of bravery and self-acceptance, and it will hopefully help others to reach that space too. What’s more, this isn’t the destination, this is just a stepping stone for Sullivan and others who feel like this – the future still holds plenty of possibility.