There's a certain tragic quality to being a Britpop fan and living in the middle of America. Once you've discovered that amazing new band from Manchester or Sheffield or Stoke-on-Trent (the more British-sounding, the better) and bought its album as an import and absorbed every vocal harmony, piano chord and string swell on the disc and watched the videos as they appear, one by one, on YouTube, well, that's it. The interface ends there. The band will never come to your town. Anyone in the world who became an XTC fan after 1982 (when the group ceased playing live shows) knows the pain.
But now we have reason to rejoice. Remember Field Music? In late 2006, that trio of Northern lads busted down the door, clattered into the kitchen, did the dishes and cleaned the clock with its masterful baroque-pop self-titled debut. Field Music's odd time signatures, withering vocal harmonies, fuzzy bass and rhythmically off-kilter melodies combined into a brainy sort of prog-pop, a musical Cornell box. The group's quick follow-up, Tones of Town, released here only months after the previous one, was even better: more evocative lyrics, catchier hooks, all the bright parts of the Side 2 of Abbey Road, sharpened and polished.
It turns out that Field Music co-songwriter David Brewis, who is headed our way with his new solo project, School of Language, is more of an albums guy than a concert junkie himself.
"Most of my love of music didn't come from going to gigs. It came from listening to and being astounded by records," Brewis says from the office of School of Language's U.S. label, Thrill Jockey.
Brewis cites the Beatles' Revolver and John Coltrane's Meditations as touchstones. "Or listening to Led Zeppelin Remasters when I was, like, 11 years old and thinking, Oh, yeah I absolutely adore whatever's going on here," says the native of the very satisfyingly named town of Sunderland.
Brewis' School of Language debut, Sea From Shore, is more raw and rocky than Field Music. The melodies are sweet, but the music is more distorted, with jagged guitar riffs dashing across blatty bass and crashing, compressed-sounding drums. Brewis' older-choirboy tenor will be familiar to Field Music fans, as will the album's rampant syncopation and frequent slips into 3/4 time.
Though he began School of Language with no thought as to how he would re-create his complex, studio-born songs live, Brewis lucked into a deal with Chicago label Thrill Jockey — and nabbed a couple of the label's top-caliber backing musicians. Filling out Brewis' equations on the road are Doug McCombs, who is the bassist for postrock kingpin act Tortoise, and drummer Ryan Rapsys of the experimental one-man act Euphone.
Yes, fellow Anglophiles, that does mean there will be Americans on stage when School of Language comes to town. Drink a bracing cup of tea, say a prayer for Andy Partridge and get your fuckin' arse to School.