Screaming Fields are Hamish Duncan and Joshua Riley. While I’m unfamiliar with Riley’s musical accomplishments, Duncan’s are certainly well documented, if not just here on the Beats Per Minute (where he was once a writer), then further across the tiers of the internet where his Sleep In moniker has had him turning a few heads. This isn’t the first time Duncan has teamed up to create new music, though, as his escapades with Leon Conolly back in 2010 resulted in the middling, but at times kinetic Octogasm under the name Lazy Dre. Once again, it’s hard to tell exactly where one contributing artists ends and the other begins, but on Six Songs By Screaming Fields, it’s clearer where he is in the big picture.
Much like recent Sleep In albums, the tracks on this EP mix together the analogue and digital side of things, combining terrorsome, deep beats alongside ruffling, drony electric guitar work. It seems to favour the former side of things though, relying on squelchy synths that work somewhere between atmospheric and melodical. “The Americans” opens the EP, and much like Octogasm’s opening track “Teatree,” it has the most likeable groove on offer here, almost overpowered by thundering drums and lost to the world of brevity. It’s something of a red herring, though, as Six Songs never quite hits on another elemental sound – but it still has features to like.
“I Myself” features Duncan on lyrical duties, and his hushed, self-affirmed voice matches the narcissistic words. “I’m too important to myself/ I need someone to take care of me,” he sings, emerging from a whisper as noises drill away alongside him, like alarms going off somewhere else irrelevant. He returns on the eight and half minute closing track “Perfect Place” where he also captures his inventive percussive edge combined with his knack for stereo tuning, creating a complex-sounding rhythm pattern that riffs on a singular melody. His words become a little mangled between the power chords of the guitar and spacey effects, but they help add a little ambiguity to the lyrics, misconstruing them to read “I won’t come around anymore.” His voice isn’t for everyone, but at this point in his career, he knows how to get the nuances he wants out of it, and here he’s displaying that despite there being only a few lyrical turns on the EP.
Riley also seems to make an appearance at the end of “Perfect Place” as the tracks winds down to close amidst reverse effects. His voice is higher, and that bit more nasal, but it’s got an interesting tone – it’s a shame they decided not to explore it more. That said, it could just be Duncan’s voice, mangled and altered until he becomes someone or something else. After all, Six Songs is highly detailed affair that boasts more than plenty of details; the linear notes list each and every sound ranging from “horse riding sample” to “lost cause.” The work gone into the EP shows; there’s plenty to hear here, but that doesn’t always make it compelling or greatly interesting. The fuzzy, violent guitar and the break-back beats on “Game Over” sound alert and intent, but they don’t make for a lasting track that has purpose other than to channel these noises back and forth. “There Is A Man Outside” suffers a similar fate: all the computer bleeps, background bells, and carnivorous synths make for a busy scene, but there’s not much cause behind it.
It’s most likely just an artistic decision to explore, but the tracks often seem to flutter about a likeable structure in an attempt to keep listeners on their feet, if not distract them with noises and effects. The marimba notes on “Perfect Place” are an interesting choice (and essential for the track’s transition in the latter half), but they seem ill fitting to the low drone and aforementioned layered percussion on the first half that could keep the track going on their own. “Game Over” is guilty too of just throwing in too much to create force but not adding in a heart or soul while “Sedated Chants” sounds like it could be a smooth minimalistic dance track had a lot of the fanfare been stripped away and instead the focus put on getting the best out of the hypnotic and distorted funk groove.
Despite its unevenness, the EP does work best as a whole, often falling from one track into the next without a moment’s notice with a notable exactitude. It’s all wrapped up in a dark-skied melancholia, and though it never mines the real detail from it and can feel a tad aimless at times, it knows how to wander around with a swagger of its own. Again, it’s hard to tell where Riley fully fits into the picture, but at the very least he takes Duncan down an avenue not far from his Sleep In work which is worth exploring the sake of possibility. It’s an intriguing chasm of noises and tones, but by the end you’re hardly screaming for more.