Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Week That Was - The Week That Was (***1/2)

Really now, who would have thought that perennially underrated post-punkers Field Music would house within their ranks two genuinely fantastic songwriters? With Field Music on what could turn out to be a permanent hiatus, David and Peter Brewis have gone out on their own, David with his guitar pop experimentation project School of Language and Peter with a symphonic pop group he has dubbed The Week That Was. While School of Language's Sea From Shore saw David staying relatively close to the Field Music home base of influences (not a bad thing), which included XTC and Gang of Four, among other post punk linchpins, The Week That Was pulls from a much larger lineage, one that includes Kate Bush, Genesis, Electric Light Orchestra and even solo Peter Gabriel. That may read like AOR schmaltz on paper, but Peter, with the assistance of a very competent band which does in fact include his brother David, manages to extract the very best elements of said influences, while infusing it with small traces of the slicing guitar chords that he is more commonly known for.

So yes, there is heavy prog influence at play on this self-titled debut, but only on album centerpiece "Yesterday's Paper" does it overtly reveal itself (and even there it is done tactfully). Most everything else here is relatively compact, especially considering that these songs feel so grandiose, with healthy doses of strings and stadium-sized drums anchoring nearly every song. Opener "Learn to Learn" retains the most evidence that this man was indeed in Field Music, yet even it would stick out as a highlight on one of that band's two solid albums. The record's strongest song is "The Airport Line" though, which proves Peter has been studying his pop-era Brian Eno records. As is the case with many songs on this debut, "The Airport Line's" restraint with its hook is commendable. Even the appropriately titled closer, "Scratch the Surface", which is probably the most straightforward track here, features an audiophile’s worth of interesting accompaniment under it's irresistible melody.

As alluded to before, The Week That Was packs a lot of ideas into its compact 32 minute runtime. In fact, it feels like a stronger and more substantial release than Sea From Shore, despite the fact that the latter is 7 minutes longer. This speaks to the writing and arranging talents of Peter Brewis, that he can take just 8 songs and paint a complete musical picture, one which updates the past by carefully integrating ideas that many felt had no place in modern pop. With each subsequent release, it's getting harder and harder to think of two more consistent pop songwriters than the brothers Brewis. Each of the four albums that they've had they're hands in are essential listening at this point, and The Week That Was may very well be the most accomplished of the lot.

Highlights: "Learn to Learn", "The Airport Line", "Scratch the Surface"

RIYL: Field Music, School of Language, Genesis, Kate Bush, Brian Eno

"The Good Life"

"Scratch the Surface"

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