In the mid-90s, I had a short foray into the popular music sphere, an experience I treasure for many reasons. Although I often wish that I had pursued the performance aspect of my musicianship more aggressively, I developed an appreciation for songcraft that I still value today. During this time, and for some time after, I was on a steady diet of power pop, particularly by independent and unknown bands. Some of the albums that I discovered during this time still rank among my favorite.
By the end of the 90s, though, the market seemed saturated with lots of bands with pretty good songs backed by lifeless guitars, and sifting through them all looking for magic moments seemed like more work than it was worth. I became acutely aware by the overall sameishness of the genre and my perhaps obsessive interest faded to an extent.
I still keep my ear to the ground, though, for innovative and musical power pop, and Field Music’s Measure clearly fits this description. I have been listening to this album in a multitude of settings since it came in the mail: going strawberry picking with the family in Massachusetts, doing a little extra driving in Austin, and hiding behind a plant before a wedding in Denton. In every case, Field Music’s ingeniously playful approach to songwriting and arrangement consistently brings a smile to my face and a spring to my step (sometimes even a tear to the eye). It one of the best albums of its type I have put in rotation in quite awhile.
Their songs are impossibly melodic and catchy, but also harbor cleverly virtuosic details. Unlike the jangly strumming accompaniment that epitomizes the mean in a lot of songwriter-style music, Field Music’s instrumental aspect has its own compelling voice. The cool “discussion” that occurs between the stereo-separated guitars in Them That Do Nothing, for example, is indicative of the kind of detailed arranging that happens all over Measure. Brilliant harmonies, rhythmic turns, expansive atmospheres, and impassioned vocals indicate more than just good songwriting, but a deeply musical concept.
Measure is twenty tracks long, which is a pretty ambitious length when each song is about two to four minute long. Nevertheless, very often I just can’t seem to turn it off - the album’s overall flow and variety commands my attention. Judging from these clips, Field Music superficially sounds a bit like XTC, but they gather a much wider variety of influences onto the whole of Measure. Field Music often navigates sharply contrasting transitions in such a convincing way that, from another, more “proggish” standpoint, Measure could almost be viewed as a single piece of music. Each song, however, has enough integrity to hang together on its own.
As far as albums go, Measure is positioned to hold its own rank amongst my favorites. Although I sometimes examine more mainstream releases, it is the more ostensible goal of this blog to raise the visibility of bands that perhaps rely more on word of mouth than hype. Field Music is one of these latter bands. Their musicianship is inspiring but not alienating, and therefore broadly appealing, in my opinion. I highly suggest checking them out.