I’ve always appreciated the underdog charm of Field Music. Never a huge player in the mussy-haired U.K.-indie explosion of the mid aughties, they almost defiantly released a series of well-liked records in the face of dwindling profits and dwindling interest. Back in ‘07 they announced a shrugged hiatus, a thing few bands survive, but miraculously regrouped and put forth their career’s most comprehensive record in the dense, sprawling Field Music (Measure). Around that time it was really easy to feel happy for them; they flexed cerebral musicality, an apt sense of songwriting, and a scrappy will to remain relevant with the press years after people stopped abusing the term “Post-Punk Revival.”
So, here’s Plumb. The second record after the hiatus, and the first following the double-record detonation of (Measure). Field Music have gathered themselves and turned inward, offering a scant 30 minutes of music in 15 songs, while still retaining the near-neurotic frenzy of cramming dozens of complex sound-geek ideas into microscopic time slots. Double-jointed guitars, strings, avant-jazz clatters, Brian Wilson harmonies and hard funk grooves—the sheer amount of ideas, whims, and eccentricities end up making everything sound a lot longer than it actually is.
Unfortunately it feels mostly like an over-concentrated mess of misplaced ambitions—for the first time in their career Field Music sound like they’re outsmarting themselves, restricting themselves to minute-and-a-half splices of sound and categorically refusing to strip-down their genre-tripping antics in an epic scenario of running out of space. This sort of thing might’ve worked on the roomy philosophy of (Measure), but certainly not within smaller confines. The fussed-over mechanics and arrangements that quite clearly went into Plumb are certainly technically impressive, but Field Music forgot to write the songs along the way.
It’s funny: the closing track “(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing” was also the band’s mpfree teaser of the new record. It’s a fairly unassuming slice of modern indie-rock tradition, but still coated in Field Music’s off-kilter inflections. Following the twisty, imposing structure of the last record, it was nice thinking Field Music would surface to mellower ground. After Plumb it’s clear they aren’t retreating any time soon. For all the stirring, resource-mulching features that the record boasts, its marquee moments are surprisingly unmemorable, like a band too centered in self-designed knottiness to let things come naturally. The optimist in me says it’s a developmental thing with a grander horizon. It’s a shame that developmental things are rarely worth listening to, though.