Back with their second album, England's Field Music have little to lose after the anticipation and admiration created by their first release. On Tones of Town, Field Music keeps the high-spirited Britpop with nice little ditties displayed on their self-titled debut.
But whereas before, they only made the simplest, breeziest songs out of it all, on their second full-length record (not counting their recent b-sides collection, Write Your Own History), Field Music has put a lot more into the mix. Their trademark simplicity and charm have been somewhat traded in for a more complex sound, which often is a reflection of promising progression, but unfortunately this time, it has delivered decidedly mixed results.
For their sophomore release, Field Music has found some great riffs and notes, but instead of developing each kernel into a full-fledged song, they just play the seed over and over, varying only the wrapping. For a few stanzas, the clutch of notes will be a clean guitar riff, with stops and starts and ups and downs to keep the ball rolling, then flip to a choral anthem of the same few notes and beats, then go to a strings & piano version, then to the clean guitar again, then to a keyboard Britpop take, and so on (sometimes mashing in another harmony or two). What makes this all the more frustrating is that the original melody is invariably a great one, but it has to not only hold up the entire song, but also fight its way past all the bells and whistles.
However sometimes, the melodies are more substantial, the add-ons less onerous, and/or the changes finer meshing, such as with ‘Place Yourself’ and ‘Kingston.’ Moreover, there are two unmistakably superb songs on Tones of Town: the first single, ‘In Context,’ and the likely second single, ‘Closer At Hand’ (it can sound très gauche to say that the best tracks on a disc are the singles, but that’s why they’re singles). On these two compositions, Field Music takes their great melodies, and puts together the beats, tempos, and forms that one would pray for.
What’s more, these two songs easily have the best vocals and lyrics on the record. Field Music’s high vocals are good if not great, and their lyrics pleasant if not profound, but put them together, and they approach the kind of banality one might fear from titles like ‘A House Is Not a Home’ and ‘Working to Work.’ But ‘Closer at Hand’ goes for the fun and wins, while ‘In Context’ has somber elements, which make it the most moving track on the album.
Field Music has shown some real promise on their two full-length releases, proving that they have the elements to be amazing. Tones of Town shows that they’re willing to do more, but often what they add does not improve, and even can smother the inspired melody. Yet on some tracks that pure promise manages to break through, and not once, but twice, it is crafted into something truly wonderful.