If you miss the disappearance or the lack of new records by The Middle East, Art of Fighting, Firekites or The Prayers & Tears of Arthur Digsby Sellers, you may decide to move your eyes towards Nashville, TN, where two transplanted musicians from Wisconsin, Eric Hillman and Brian Holl, record, write and perform the same type of exquisite songs under the alias of Foreign Fields.
It is even difficult to believe it is their debut, album as along these thirteen tracks and sixty-three minutes, you're just constantly surprised by their craft at writing and conceiving their songs, using the right balance to keep things both simple more than often graceful and bright.
At the core of their music you could feel the obvious influences of The Album Leaf, Sigur Rós or Bjork but they also claim as references Broken Social Scene, Radiohead or Bon Iver. Their biggest difference with these last ones is that their music is much more introvert and quiet, with a tendency towards emotional melancholy, and a deep love for atmospheres.
In a certain way they are playing atmospheric and orchestral slowcore music. Sometimes there is something almost pompous with their music but with their sense of minimalism and economy, it is never an obstacle, as you can never resist too long before being taken inside their subtle melodic shifts which often transform their songs at the exact moment where you could become distracted, keeping you concerned that way.
There are in fact two types of songs inside this record, the wide and emotional (and relatively pompous) ones, and the contemplative self-reflexive introvert ones where the occasional use of beats add some welcome tension and drive.
"From the lake to the land" belongs to the first category and opens the album on a quiet almost epic mood. Then you just can fall in the intimate warmth of "Taller", which is just incredibly beautiful and fulfilling, with just the right amount of melancholic tension and sunny release to propel you to euphoric heights. The guitars are particularly beautiful and subtle, though it's also true on most of the tracks. It is really both mind-blowing and almost depressing with this invading sadness perspiring the slow playful beats.
Just when you start to think "Taller" was surely the best track of the album and was featuring Foreign Fields at their top, "Mountaintop" is there to show you that it was just a small part of their universe. Windows are wide open, you can look as far as possible and someways it just reflects the sadness which stays deep inside some hidden well of your memory, translating it in a strange but welcome sensation of well-being. The depth, the nuances, the subtlety, discovering Foreign Fields forces you to expand your current thoughts. I really wasn't expecting to love their record so much, but "Mountaintop" is just reminding me of my favorite At Swim Two Birds and Apartments songs too.
I'm not too fond of their piano instrumental, "Anywhere But Where I Am", but just in line "Where the Willow Tree Died" is already a good excuse even if I can't totally adhere to it, too much at my limit of irritation during the two first minutes until a second part where they just transcend the preciosity of the first part, turning it into something deliciously languid when you pass the three minutes mark. This strange inertia goes on with "A difficult year" as an absolute component of their charm.
Back to melancholic introversion on the moving "So Many foreign homes", where the vocal melody takes the lead and impresses the direction of the song, replaced at a particular twist of the song with an acoustic guitar, while strings, electric guitar and beats are drawing both the landscape and the global mood. Strangely it reminds of Hood, July Skies or even Talk Talk, the two members of Foreign Fields are definitely approaching something priceless. During the next instrumental interlude "Keep Us In Mind", you're simply orbiting.
Bang. Then comes "Names and races": vocals, acoustic guitar, the electric one in the background, a nice reverb, introspective lyrics and a strong feeling of intimacy and tension, then it slowly evolves both unexpectedly and naturally and the heart starts to beat more slowly and you breathe deeper, you need to sit down and feel heavy. A blissful feeling of wonder invades your soul like summer heatwave.
I'm so amazed that I can barely allow me to listen to "Pillars" but once again they strike with the kind of song I wish Gregor Samsa would have recorded, or 1 Mile North could have done if they had used vocals.
The feeling of weightlessness goes on with "The River Kings", and the abstraction of a motionless folk song, "Perfect home" which finally turns into an atmospheric blurry hymn. Last track of the album, "Fake Arms" shows Foreign Fields at their nudest form, an intimate folk song, acoustic guitar and warm melancholic vocals and once again all you can do is listen attentively and wish that one day they will play live nearby.
For sure, one of the best albums of the year and a band to follow closely.