[Memphis Industries; 2016]
Throughout the history of rock and roll, the arrival of parenthood has often marked a decline in an artist’s creativity and output. We sometimes get gems like Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” and David Bowie’s “Kooks” as a result, but the schmaltzy, lackluster content that most post-parenthood artists churn out far outweighs the memorable material.
Field Music have bucked this tradition with their recent release, Commontime. The band’s past five albums were overtly busy and bookish, often riddled by a case of having too many cooks in the kitchen. The two head chefs, brothers Peter and David Brewis, both recently entered parenthood, and based off of the songs on Commontime, the distraction that having a child brings has helped the band be more carefree with their songwriting approach.
While past efforts often felt muddled by excess, the brothers’ 2016 effort is an easy-going, serene listen. The songs, for the most part, have an amiable spirit and borrow heavily from familiar touchstones from the 80s. “Disappointed” could sit easily next to Kenny Loggin’s catalog, “It’s a Good Thing” is unapologetic Billy Ocean style R&B, and album opener “The Noisy Days are Over” is a jumpy funk number reminiscent of the Talking Heads.
“The Noisy Days are Over”:
Listening to the sounds of Kenny Loggins and Billy Ocean may seem like a guilty pleasure left for your commute to work, but Field Music insure that these simplistic songs still feature the duo’s signature, meticulous touches throughout. In the past the Brewis brothers embellished their tracks in an effort to always create something off-kilter, but on Commontime, the flourishes have one goal in mind – making the songs better.
This ability to write breezy melodies with complex song structures reminds me of Steely Dan, and it’s obvious that the work of Donald Fagan and Walter Becker have had a huge influence on Field Music. Throughout Commontime there are Aja moments, tracks taking unexpected turns that add to the overall geniality of the album. Some of the best moments on the album are when David’s voice is channeling Fagan.
“But Not For You”:
Lyrically the album also takes a break from the band’s humorless past work. Instead, the lyrics poke fun at the perils of growing old. “The Noisy Days are Over” lament over the perils of growing old with the chorus of “The noisy days are over/ and here we are instead,/ why don’t you grow old like everyone else?”. Some of the funniest moments on the album are when the lyrics focus on the experience of being a new father. “I’m Glad” questions the choice of becoming a parent (“If someone had told me/ how this would be/ Well, I’m glad I never knew”), “It’s a Good Thing” is an acceptance of the more boring yet fulfilling aspects of parenthood, and “Stay Awake” might be the greatest love song ever written about offering to stay awake for your exhausted wife.
By becoming parents it seems that the Brewis brothers have less time to tinker and more time to get down to simply writing great songs. Maybe becoming a parent isn’t so bad after all (I still have no interest in seeing videos of your kids’ dance recitals and tee-ball games).