(Memphis Industries, out Fri 11 Jan 2018)
Field Music‘s Peter Brewis has always been liberal with the side projects (first The Week That Was, then Slug, then Frozen By Sight, his collaboration with Maximo Park’s Paul Smith) while Sarah Hayes of Admiral Fallow has also been happy to plough a solo furrow outwith her regular band. You Tell Me sees the two join forces for a project that marries their respective idioms together well enough, without necessarily taking things to new heights.
Both wrote for the album, but Brewis’s baroque indie has a stronger flavour to it than Hayes’ subtler, folk-flecked tunesmithing, and it’s this that dominates the brew. In parts, it feels like a female-fronted Field Music, though Hayes’ voice has the advantage of being able to pierce through denser passages, adding pop-folk levity to Brewis’ world of unconventional song structures, stuttering tempos and tightly-woven orchestration.
The Brewis led tracks tend to be heavier and more muscular. They have some nice touches – the organ outro on Get Out Of The Room for instance or the snatchy rhythmic groove of Water Cooler. It’s not clear what they’re doing on this album though, rather than being saved for the day job.
The album makes most sense when the influence of both can be more clearly felt. The Joni Mitchell-esque balladry of Springburn is an especially effective use of their combined talents. “Heard you were in the hospital and might not be the same,” sings Hayes, before making a melodic switch into what seems like a Brewisian non-chorus, “You’d laugh in disbelief if I told you the impact that you made.”
The division of labour on Clarion Call works well too. Country guitar and multi-tracked Brewis backing vocals provide another dimension to something that could work perfectly nicely as a solo piano number for Hayes. On Invisible Ink, Hayes’ vocals give a human touch to some 60s computer lab arpeggios; on Kabuki she sees the album out gently as a first verse full of strange rattles and huffing-and-puffing gives way to a chamber quartet.
Brewis never knowingly under-orchestrates, and strings pop-up frequently – giving Foreign Parts a theatrical overture of an opening or leading Starting Point to a stately end. That richness and complexity will forever be his USP and undoing. The daytime TV theme tune that is Enough To Notice‘s chorus might be a touch on the cheesy side, but it’s the nearest the album gets to straight pop melody.
You Tell Me ends up, like most of its creators’ output, a set of intelligent, well-crafted songs that’s not to be sniffed at. Yet this is a double-edged sword Brewis in particular has fallen foul of before. Without some cheap, dumb thrills or a strong overarching atmosphere to latch onto, it’s an album that’s hard to fall in love with.