One of the adulatory remarks showered on Field Music’s 2018 album Open Here was that if its nuanced, articulate re-imagining of indie rock didn’t finally earn them the success they deserved they might as well parade around their native Sunderland naked to see if that did the trick instead.
Critical acclaim of course doesn’t pay the bills, as most artists are only too aware, but conditions for the Brewis siblings have seemed at times unnecessarily harsh, even coming to the point of them facing eviction from their own studio.
Maybe causes have an effect; part of a loosely associated cabal of acts from England’s post-industrial north east along with The Futureheads, Maximo Park and Nadine Shah, the pair are happy to confront the London-centric stereotype of the region as a hotbed of nationalism, tackling issues in the past such as gender, politics and class.
Since then we’ve had the patchy concept album Making A New World, but Flat White Moon makes its predecessor seem like an anomaly.
In some ways the premise is little revised – the kitchen funk of No Pressure deals with the fallout of what for public figures is now a post-responsibility world – however, in overall approach, the duo say, the feel is looser, more about having fun whilst the world continues to turn.
This doesn’t mean they’re seeing that landscape as any less complicated, the proggy flutes of Orion From The Street peering backwards to light up verses about the way that intense emotions can swamp the levee of the mind as if on drugs.
The idea of what constitutes ‘fun’ is archly subjective, so while Flat White Moon is as musically open to possibilities as any of its predecessors, the concepts at its root are not traditionally gleeful, tackling subjects about confronting grief, loss and guilt – emotions that threaten our adequacy and equilibrium.
Having the bravery to ask if people are really OK – or genuinely wanting to hear the answer – is When You Last Heard From Linda’s theme, the uncertainty framed by an arrangement redolent of English Settlement-era XTC.
Reconfiguring the work of obscurely held treasures like Andy Partridge has long been the Field Music way. An intuitively lightness of touch helps; on Not When You’re In Love they mimic the early noughties breeziness of Keane or The Feeling, while the retro-thump – if not the brief jazz breakdown – of In This City wrestles post punk and sixties pop into an unlikely but successful outcome.
Given all the underlying tensions at play it would be expected, easier even, to anticipate a bumpy ride as the bipolar grips of pleasure and remorse loosen and then bind again.
It’s credit to the brothers then that the path is a mostly less radical one, the arty funk of closer You Get Better, I’m The One Who Wants To Be With You’s examination of toxic masculinity and stand out The Curtained Room all different chimes of the same clock.
Will Flat White Moon take Field Music to untold stardom, arena sellouts and gold taps on private jets? Well, it’s unlikely, but while they may not feel the same, it’s indisputably a good thing. You never know how such a transformation is likely to change people, and change inherently is what this record is about, although not in an obvious way.
This time next year they might be millionaires, but it’s likely to be in denominations of good humour, perspective and mindfulness only.