Album Review: Field Music – Flat White Moon

[Memphis Industries; 2021]

For all their sophisticated takes on rock, UK band Field Music have always been equally apt at creating melody-driven pop songs, oftentimes blending the two approaches to glorious effect (highlights across their 15-plus year career include 2010’s Measure and 2018’s Open Here). Perhaps that’s what made their 2020 release, Making a New World — a concept album based on the aftermath of World War I — a somewhat perplexing one. Headed by brothers David and Peter Brewis, the band created songs that were among their most experimental, dense, and serious. Yet something felt off. For the first time, it really seemed like Field Music were trying too hard.

That’s anything but the case on their latest release, Flat White Moon. Listeners get “Do Me A Favour”, a lovely alt-country track that delivers a message of love and solidarity (“I’m not asking for much / Just do me a favour”) over effortless guitar strumming and a thick, grooving baseline, evoking Wilco in the process. We also get “Out of the Frame”, a song with a 1970s radio sheen that nonetheless captures the sentimentality felt about someone long gone.

“We want to make people feel good about things that we feel terrible about,” said David about Flat White Moon, and these 12 songs deal with death and loss – themes that have never felt so tangible for so many. Yet, Field Music pull off this balancing act for one simple reason: this was their very gift to begin with.

Field Music use everything at their disposal to bring the album to life, from woodblocks and drum machines to strings and horns. Single and opening track “Orion From The Street” starts with a climactic soundscape decorated with twinkling effects; piano keys, horns, and other instrumentations come in with each verse, slowly building up the song’s emotional weight (“If I thought you were anywhere / I would be there too”). The hushed yet groovy “The Curtained Room” relies on little more than a gentle drum machine and playful guitar hooks. Album highlight “Not When You’re In Love”, an urgent song that follows the rise and fall of a relationship, blooms with glorious vocal harmonies (another enduring strength of theirs). Field Music leave the decision to the listener whether to dissect the lyrics for deeper meaning or simply enjoy the album’s near 40-minute runtime. Neither choice is wrong.

And, make no mistake, the band still isn’t afraid to lean into their sophistication. On “When You Last Heard From Linda”, soft yet rolling percussion establishes the song’s pensive mood while accentuating strings act like backing vocals, yet it isn’t a song so much as a parable set to music; the lines are dense with the second-person tellings of the times spent with an old (former?) friend, and the words are delivered in a poetic cadence. “Meant To Be” takes the opposite approach, relying on limited vocals and instead showing off the band’s art-rock chops. Here, tripping guitar hooks and rattling percussion carry the song’s bouncing energy before an electric guitar solo take control. The album’s tracklist moves back-and-forth between songs like these and its poppier numbers, but in a way that never feels forced or awkward.

Two months ago, Field Music released a video for “No Pressure”, a nod to parody instructional videos like Complicated Drumming Technique with Jens Hannemann (played by Fred Armisen). Tips include saying the song’s title in the first line, “to get people to know the name of the song.” Meanwhile, the band members throw in some self-deprecating humor: “by this point in the song, I’m usually bored,” the bassist admits. The song itself is bouncy and lighthearted, even if the lyrics are anything but (“They brush it off / And we’re all left here / Crushed in the ruins”). It’s a humorous and earnest moment, one that gets at the core appeal of Flat White Moon. Field Music are, above all else, being themselves.