If a stranger approached me today and asked what pair of English brothers were making the best neo-New Wave music these days, I’d be surprised. Firstly, because that’s a very specific question for a stranger to ask, but ultimately because I’d have an answer for him. David and Peter Brewis of Field Music have seemingly had as much success with each of their independent side projects as with their unified effort. Peter gave us the concise, but quality self-titled album from The Week That Was and now brother David is releasing his second album as School of Language, Old Fears.
School of Language makes incredible use of negative space in the sonic sense. The music consists much more of interjections and interrogatives than any sustained dialogue. The sound is patient and at times grows, but is never all-consuming. It can churn so much that you’re as likely to get seasickness as satisfaction. And when you get to the track “So Much Time,” you’re tempted to wonder whether Brewis took this title a little too literally.
In fact, the repetition of lines, such as the guitars in “A Smile Cracks” or the vocals in “Moment of Doubt,” makes the “sour” notes—like some found in “Suits Us Better”—seem like a godsend. Even the 5/4 instrumental title track (good luck finding many of those) captivates with its astronomical exploration when pitted against its own blotting bass line. The album as a journey can seem like complete existential frustration–the equivalent of waiting for your date to return your call (just kidding, who actually calls their dates anymore)–but is ultimately given an appropriate and substantial release in the concluding “You Kept Yourself.”
Brewis helps get you there with his part-David Byrne, part-Craig Macintosh from Dogs Die in Hot Cars voice. His vocals are much in line with the lightness of the tracks. At times you feel like the entire song is at risk of floating away. But his lines and lyrics have a truly Byrne-like way of turning the seeming monotony of life into an anguish-filled religious experience, whether it’s with the call-and-response of “Between the Suburbs” or the choir vibe of “Small Words.” When Brewis sings the melancholic “you kept yourself/as much from yourself/as you did from me,” it seems as if he could be making a plea to a higher power if not a significant other.
If you’re the type that sees that Mondrian as a couple of colored squares on a canvass instead of a masterwork, then you might have some issues with Old Fears. It is certainly an album that is as much about the notes that aren’t there as it is the ones that are. As the consumer, you’re left to fill in the blanks. So on one hand you could see excellently paced and plotted swells that can carry an album without too much disruption, while on the other you could see a dirge that lacks the necessary depth for a quality record. In this case, I trust the man with the brush.