Even after reading the so-called definition of â€˜rockism,â€™ Iâ€™m still not quite sure I understand it. Further still, I donâ€™t understand the furor over such a vague and ambiguous concept. Iâ€™m not sure if David Brewis would agree with me on the silliness of the term and its elusive and absurdly controversial meaning, but after hearing Sea From Shore, Iâ€™m guessing he just might. Brewis is better known as one third of Field Music, an inventive, XTC-like band out of Sunderland, England who seemed to be still scaling the peak of their limitless potential. However, an undetermined hiatus made most think that Field Music was over before it really even began, leaving fans only two albums of material to satisfy them. (Of course, if youâ€™re a Jeff Buckley fan, you know that material seemingly comes out of nowhere even when the well seems dried up). Citing a need for something more than serving the idea of being an â€˜indieâ€™ band, the three members â€˜splitâ€™ to work on respective projects. School of Language is the moniker chosen for the solo work of David Brewis, and Field Music fans should be pleased to learn that Sea From Shore, the debut album, not only holds the same magic that FM music does, but it also takes on new and exciting dimensions of the type of material one would expect.
I mentioned the term â€˜rockismâ€™ mostly because of Brewisâ€™ use of the term in not one, but four tracks on Sea From Shore. The four parts of â€œRockistâ€ act as kind of an All-Wheel Drive for the album, two in the front and two in the back. It is this group of songs that steers Sea From Shore and then guides it home again. Brewis begins, not with guitars as a â€˜rockistâ€™ would expect, but with repeated soft vowel sounds in a pattern that essentially take the place of a synth track were one to exist. Brewisâ€™ captivating singing voice then comes in with a guitar soon enough and we are treated to something intensely thrilling, the combination of Brewisâ€™ accessible pop structures and a level of experimentation that, while noticeable, does not take us out of that realm of accessibility. â€œRockist Part 2â€ is even more enjoyable, adding pianos, layered drum tracks, and more of a compositional than a pop atmosphere.
Brewisâ€™ Futurehead buddy David Craig makes an appearance in â€œDisappointment â€™99,â€ a track powered by fuzzed out drums and several acrobatic guitar tracks. Craigâ€™s presence is one of the few by anyone other than Brewis. In this way, I suppose that he would fit some of the term â€˜rockist,â€™ but thatâ€™s not even worth getting into. Throughout Sea From Shore, songs go beyond traditional chord progressions and song structures, defying both pop androck conventions. Take a listen to â€œPoor Boyâ€ and youâ€™ll hear the usual XTC and maybe even ELO influences, but with left turns everywhere, song breaks in odd places, and an overall sense that this is a bit more complex. Brewis does, however, sound a dead ringer for Andy Partridge in this track. â€œKeep Your Waterâ€ finds us in slightly proggy territory; sounding like a blend of McCartney penned later Beatles tunes and Gilmour-helmed Floyd.
The middle portion of Sea From Shore, starting with â€œKeep Your Waterâ€ and ending with â€œShips,â€ is much more meditative than the rest of the album. In this way, Brewis has adroitly ensnared the listener with the heavier tracks before slowing things down. These middle tracks are no less engaging. But they do serve to show a different, more delicate side of his music. In fact, Brewisâ€™ vocals might be at their very best and brightest in â€œShips.â€ Once that middle part is complete, we roar back into the experimental mastery that is â€œThis is No Fun,â€ one of my favorite tracks on the record. Itâ€™s as if someone accidentally mashed up their Battles and Beatles records by mistake. â€œExtended Holidaysâ€ could possibly be one of the most intriguing tracks on the record, replete with agile percussion and a processed whistle that grabs your attention. The â€œRockistâ€ theme returns with Parts 3 and 4 of that progression, with the former being the most traditionally song-like of the four, and the soft vowel sounds never quite getting there, remaining a low hum. That is, until Part 4, whose beginning is only noticeable by either the stereo / iPod display, or the presence of the vowels. â€œRockist Part 4â€ is a mirror image of â€œPart 1,â€ and thus we end as we begin, weâ€™ve come full circle, and we canâ€™t help but smile at the remembrance of the journey.
Like Kevin Drew, and soon Brendan Canning, David Brewis has released the School of Language album under an umbrella moniker. Just as Spirit Ifâ€¦ was a â€˜Broken Social Scene Presentsâ€¦â€™ installment, so too is Sea From Shore a â€˜Field Music Production.â€™ While this may be an attempt by both parties to associate a lesser-known name with a known quantity, it also acts as an assurance to listeners to expect the same quality that one would get with the former band. When I got a chance to see Field Music at last yearâ€™s SXSW conference, it seemed as if the show could be disappointing. Technical difficulties with pedals and switches seemed to cut into their time to the point where we all wondered whether or not there would even be a show. But, when it began, it was amazing. The trio would switch up instruments and vocal duties, blasting out incredible tunes at a blistering pace as if they were defiant in their determination to play every song they originally intended before the difficulties. David Brewis proves himself to be just as flexible and determined on his School of Language debut, an album similar enough to Field Music to garner its fans, and distanced enough to prove enjoyable on all new levels.