Album of the Week | Field Medic: light is gone 2
On his latest effort, Kevin Patrick Sullivan ponders questions new and old while expanding his own musical palette and retaining his distinct perspective on sobriety, heartbreak and mental illnessMusic Reviews Field Medic
Kevin Patrick Sullivan, the singer/songwriter who performs primarily as Field Medic, has never had an issue with naked honesty—which is why it is so surprising to hear him bemoan a growing fear of just that. “Cause now all of a sudden, I’m afraid to let anyone know I feel sad,” goes the chorus of “iwantthistolast!”—the first single from Sullivan’s newest Field Medic record light is gone 2. But it’s on the second single, “everything’s been going so well”, where he completes the circle on this declaration. There’s a hint of delusion that flirts with self-deception hidden within the song’s title and chorus, which Sullivan sings like a mantra—its repetition washed away in a spin cycle of reverb; hoping, it seems, to convince us (and himself) of its validity. In many ways, Sullivan’s grand project as Field Medic has been, to this point, unadorned vulnerability. His records are biographical to a fault, as he tracks his sobriety, mental health and romantic life in real time down to minute detail. Yet now, he is suddenly afraid and not quite sure why—a question he spends the majority of light is gone 2 determined to unpack.
light is gone 2 is framed as a sequel to Sullivan’s 2015 debut album as Field Medic, but it was largely born out of an attempt to manipulate the musical approach he established on that first release. Sullivan has largely been a guy with an acoustic guitar and a boombox, but this record seeks to blend digital recording—replete with the attendant synth and drum machine accouterment—into his established palette. While certainly adding variation and, according to Sullivan, kickstarting a rush of creativity, it doesn’t fundamentally change what the project of Field Medic is at its core—a fact that can largely be attributed to Sullivan himself, a creator of such idiosyncrasy and personality that it almost overshadows whatever changes in technique or style he might attempt.
It’s here I must admit how taken aback I am with that very personality, one that blends gallows humor, genuine pathos and gutting candor to charming effect. Sullivan describes this style best on one of light is gone 2’s few genuine love songs—“the look on her face like a recurring dream”—in which he describes the song’s subject as “laughing and…crying simultaneously”. He sings unflinchingly about addiction, anxiety and depression in a way that is neither curt nor self-involved, all while remaining genuinely funny—a tightrope he walks with impressive ease. A song like “i had a dream that you died” from 2022’s grow your hair long if you’re wanting to see something that you can change managed to pair the lines “I’ve pondered suicide, but I could never do that to my mom” with “I feel like a Chia Pet the way my hair looks dumb and my heart is made of stone” without undercutting either idea, something I wouldn’t suggest many other songwriters attempt.
On light is gone 2, Sullivan tweaks with this formula by presenting us with an increasingly unreliable narrator, one steeped in guilt and regret. Early album standout “TSION”—one of the most prominent examples of Field Medic’s new sonic direction—lists past transgressions like drinking White Claws before noon before assuring the listener that “that shit is over now.” Maybe it’s the uncharacteristic exuberance—matched by the furious backbeat and sugary synths—but I am not so sure I believe him, a feeling quickly bolstered by the first line of the very next track, “you deserve attention”—in which he admits “my lips are telling lies,” before singing of nights alone with bottles of Sutter Home. It’s entirely possible that these songs were written during different points in Sullivan’s recovery, but it’s a slippery identity crisis that pops up again and again on this record. When “that shit” defines you, what remains when it’s over?
Which brings us back to the give-and-take of light is gone 2’s initial singles and Sullivan’s trepidation, for the first time, is him building community in his sadness. If you’ve tracked the many moments of autobiography that run through Field Medic’s discography, then you’re likely aware that most of his aforementioned portrayals of addiction are now sung in the past tense. They are demons with receding shadows, half-remembered nights further blurred by the distance of time and personal growth, but the emptiness of their absence is not as freeing as one might imagine. The stuttering, percussive “everything’s been going so well” is drenched in the kind of guilt one might feel when they are, “too self absorbed and depressed to see everything’s going well,” a kind of self-imposed survivor’s remorse run amok. It’s not that Sullivan suddenly fears honesty, but, rather, the kind of disappointment that might come from everyone’s assumption that you’ve crossed some imaginary finish line. The light might still be gone, but for Sullivan, darkness and light are always relative.
Watch Field Medic’s Paste studio session from 2019 below.
Sean Fennell is a culture writer from Philadelphia attempting to listen, watch, and read every single thing he can get his hands on.