The Sarah Neufeld/Colin Stetson record last year, Never Were the Way She Was, was haunting, bleak, beautiful, delicate, sad, impassioned. The Ridge, Sarah Neufeld’s solo record, is also very beautiful and passionate, but pivots away towards more positive emotions—there’s joy, awe, surprise, and desire. This record runs at a hotter heat than Never Were the Way She Was. The title (and opening) track introduces the album’s general sound—Neufeld’s expressive violin playing accompanied by perfect textural percussion and, later, her diaphanous voice (which at times is a little reminiscent of how Colin Stetson’s voice sounds when he sings through his saxophone—it’s there as a cameo, not in a starring role). The song explodes halfway through into an exuberant groove that Neufeld later collapses back into a whisper; then she sings her secrets.
Yuck are a really good band. As a listener, you know you’re gonna get fuzz, good melodies, sweet licks too, perhaps—a bunch of fun songs, in short. This is all true, again, on their new album, Stranger Things, and there are other things that are true: songs on this album will jump out at you and seize you. Songs on this album are mini-epics, full-on epics, and tiny elegies, sometimes all at once. Hearts in Motion is an example of this all-in-one model. It starts with a stunning riff, but the song is protean, shifting this way and that, speeding up and slowing down (in a way that’s reminiscent of some Built to Spill songs)—it gets your blood pumping. It’s a ballad folded into a high-energy guitar burner.
It would be thrilling if you could give someone the videogame equivalent of a postcard. Something small and immersive. A chance for them to duck their head into a landscape you saw, an event you attended, an attraction you gawked at. The more banal, the better. Maybe one from the Grand Canyon, but it’s of the parking lot and you have to drive your car through several packed rows and around many wandering pedestrians before you find an open space; one of the Space Needle where you have to take pictures of other people posing in front of the tower at dusk so that you only get a half-view of the thing itself. I think songs are like that: thrillingly and imperfectly evocative. “Low” to me is a spring day’s downcast drive to the coast. I can get an idea of what it is, what it means, to Golden Daze, but I don’t know for sure. I like the feel of it though.
Open on: a shot of a landscape filled with waterfalls. We pan to: more waterfalls. Close up: it’s not normal water, it’s sparkling water, there’s bubbles all the way through this stuff. This is the planet of San Pellegrino. Cut to: a beautiful resort perched on the edge of one of the big sparkling falls. Zoom in: couples are dancing in a courtyard. There’s a band playing there in the corner; they’re all sweating, but they look like they’re having fun.
There’s a kind of dark-Disney vibe with this song, especially in the backing vocals, which murmur and hum intermittently. Juicy is thrumming with voice, actually: the stately lead vocals command and invite (“Come play with me” and “Play here with me”), reinforced by cooing ‘la la las’ and ‘whoa-ooh-ohs’ flying by. The whole album has that same sort of luxuriant layering too—it all sounds very pretty and fine in your ears, richly and pleasantly thick—though it doesn’t seem like the band draped everything in extra sound just because they could. Synesthetica is full but not excessive; it keeps unveiling neat little tricks the more you listen to it.
Wandering-in-the-night songs about: dancefloor flaneurs. Be Apart has a deceptive title, because it implies separation, but the way Aaron Maine sings the chorus—“I want to be a part/of it all”—shows a yearning for belonging. And the way the song moves too, the mood of it, sounds more like someone aiming to make a connection. “I will go out tonight,” Maine sings in the first verse, and it’s all that: a searching hope that this night will be the night; that you’ll meet some people who’ll make you feel happy that you took a chance and left your place; that you’ll feel content to be yourself. And the music reflects that, to an extent, with its buoyant synths and percussion (which gives way at the end to a kind of ambiguous drone—a queasy end to the night, maybe).
The thing about Field Music’s songs is that they all snap together in such satisfying ways. Everything is just so; it’s all tight, seamless, polished. This is exhilarating when the songs have unpredictable melodies; it’s way frustrating on the few occasions when the songs just kind of grind along. Luckily on Commontime (the new LP), Field Music sound inventive, playful, and energetic—this is definitely the best and most consistent LP they’ve released in a while and it has some of their catchiest songs. Disappointed is the type of song that you listen to once and have in your head for a week (I woke up with this song in my head the other night, which was enjoyable (albeit a little intense at 3 in the morning)).
Footnote: Field Music are from Sunderland, in the northeast of England. Sunderland has, for as long as I’ve been watching English soccer, had a pretty dysfunctional team—which means that, if the brothers Brewis are fans of the team, they are well acquainted with disappointment. Disappointment served steadily, in manifold forms, over many, many years. I know the song Disappointed is not about Sunderland Football Club, but it should be.
You can be trapped like an actor’s trapped in a play. Saying the same stuff, strutting the same struts, standing in the same spots night after night. On a physical, micro-level, everything changes, sure, the inflection of your voice as you speak varies by performance, there’s a hitch in your step one night that wasn’t there the night before, you lose some millions or billions of cells when you exfoliate at the end of the night, but on a real level, from a considered viewpoint, nothing changes. You’re stuck. But there’s some romance in that too, a sense of being set outside, alongside, the main flow of things, in a parenthetical time, your own little epoch.
[BUY Escapements, which is awesome]