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Key Tracks: "A New Town," "(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing"
One of the most explored subgenres in the long history of rock is psychedelia. Despite the original uniqueness of the form having long worn off, indie bands today continue to mind the well-mined and release studio creations that pay tribute to Pet Sounds. Field Music is one of the latest in that long line, hearkening back to the baroque pop of yore with Plumb.
But when Brian Wilson spent months crafting "Good Vibrations," he did so with a driven purpose, to move beyond the "I Want to Hold Your Hand" values of early '60s pop music for artistic credibility. Today, with indie bands routinely putting out their avant-garde visions of the world in this vein, the goal is simply nonexistent, making it all the more mystifying what exactly an album like Plumb is trying to prove. Attempting to be resonant with its lush complexity of instruments, it rattles with emptiness due to a sheer lack of melody.
And I can't emphasize "empty" enough--soullessness dogs each note of every song. Clearly they can capture the form of progressive music--the songs change meter, crescendo and switch sections with the expected googlefritz, but offer nothing to tug at the heartstrings. In fact, every song feels like it was perfectly graphed and calculated before being put to tape. The instruments futz about and fly through the air in perfect geometrical shapes, but emotion is painfully lacking from the equation.
The record sounds organically conceived, from real pianos to real violins to real guitars, but I find it hard to believe that living, breathing humans were able to derive excitement from this particular blend of notes and sounds. There is an odd disjointedness to each combination of instruments, almost as if they created a modern Sgt. Pepper-like wonder of an arrangement, sliced it all apart and then glued congruent snippets back together.
The album's randomness is almost maddening at times. The acoustic beginning to "So Long Then" is beautiful, but it leaves within seconds, just in case you had the stupidity to think that it was planned to be that way. Decent slices of funk are buried in a couple of tracks, but before they become really involving, the album schizophrenically jumps right back into dullness. The intriguing parts of this album are like driftwood from a shipwreck, keeping the listener from drowning in a sea of academic monotony. Really, it's that bad.
Yet, the mere fact that they did not dive headfirst into weirdness for weirdness'sake is promising all by itself. If someone would kindly give Field Music a heart of decent melodies to put into this cold tin machine of prog they have created, this material might have some potential. But as it is, Plumb is nothing more than calculated perfection of psychedelic form. There could be another Revolver hidden behind its wall of sound...but as long as that wall is an end in itself rather than the means, such a gem will never be found.
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