Field Music, Plumb, Memphis Industries

Photograph by Ian West
  • Memphis Industries
  • Photograph by Ian West

I love the way Field Music infuses their beachy pop with prog pomp, which will surely scare away the more small-minded indie kids. The Brit-inflected vocals even evoke Genesis-era Peter Gabriel (at other times, I hear Eno and Tim Finn).

Based on "(I Keep Thinking about) A New Thing," the first single, I pegged the Sunderland duo, Peter and David Brewis, as an avant garde XTC, except they prove more difficult to pin down on their fourth full-length what with all the precise piano, sorrowful accordion, exuberant strings, tricky time signatures, and clunky drumming. Love it or loathe it: they have their own thing going on.

  • Memphis Industries

What might sound like stiff, white-boy perambulations, however, proves surprisingly limber as they swing in a decidedly post-punk fashion, like King Crimson on a sugar high or a bossa nova variation on Gang of Four.

Among their diverse influences, the Brewis brothers cite Igor Stravinsky, Stax R&B, Fleetwood Mac, Serge Gainsbourg, Thelonious Monk, and Kate Bush, while their past and present associates include Barry and David Hyde (the Futureheads), Tom English (Maximo Park), and Doug McCombs (Tortoise).

I get the impression that they could write a conventional pop song if they wanted to, except they don't, so songs never resolve as neatly as you might expect. In fact, every one of these 15 tracks sounds purposefully abstract. There are hooks here, but the twosome has a tendency to toss them into the air, letting them land where they may, scattering and fluttering around like confetti. Most other artists would repeat the choruses until they solidified into something hard and discreet.

To date, Plumb registers as one of the year's more pleasing, yet frustrating releases. Depending on your perspective, their fragmented approach makes them thoroughly punk rock or thoroughly pretentious. Ever the Libra, I vote for both.

Stream Plumb at NPR Music before Memphis Industries releases it on on 2/14/12.