Cinematic in its details but conventional when need be, this is a remarkable debut.
Fraser McAlpine 2012-03-22
Gobby bands with an abundance of self-esteem often make the bold claim that their music is cinematic, when they just mean they’ve hired an orchestra to puff up some of the quieter songs. Rough Fields, the project of one James Birchall, is a different proposal. Birchall appears to have taken his inspiration not from the musical score of a film, but the Foley: the bangs, scrapes and wheezes that sonically illustrate the on-screen action.
So instead of polishing up vintage guitars or downloading hot new bass patches, Edge of the Firelight’s tracks get a groove going, establish a musical motif, present a bit of singing, and then mix in home recordings of industrial noises from a rusty Dictaphone – this, while all the time Birchall heaves on a broken accordion, shakes flotsam and bric-a-brac, and generally hits stuff with things. This aural hotchpotch is the spine of the Rough Fields sound, and also the skin. This is space-rock, but with an actual physical space in mind.
Not that there aren’t conventional songs in here – the lavishly harmonised Girls in Cars and Geese being among the best – it’s just they’re often slathered with clicks and cracks, puffs and howls. Where there are harmonies, the overlapping voices have been resolutely left untidy, sibilant esses and tees pop up at irregular moments, like dancing sparks falling from a barbecue.
In Curtain Music, the abstraction of sound from music is as though Vampire Weekend have been killed, and this is the pounding ritual that will raise their spirits from the cold ground. Dead Wood, Trailer Snakes goes even further, a bitter swipe at society that takes off like a Heath Robinson-built Radiohead biplane, all knotted string, perspiration, clicky sticks and tea-chest bass. In contrast, Border Navigation is the sound of an asthmatic man playing a keyboard in a boomy air conditioning unit while someone with a noisy set of keys makes a fried breakfast.
So this is a remarkable album in that, while there is often a whole heap of nothing going on, it's a very involving kind of nothing. And yes, it’s very cinematic.