Personnel: Peter Brewis (piano); Paul Smith (vocals, guitar); Ed Cross, Josephine Montgomery (violin); Ele Leckie (viola); Chrissie Slater (cello); Andrew Lowther (marimba, glockenspiel); David Brewis (drums, percussion).
Recording information: Field Music Studio; Sage Gateshead.
Arranger: Peter Brewis .
When Maximo Park's singer Paul Smith was looking for collaborators to help with his first solo album, 2010's Margins, he turned to old friends Peter and David Brewis of Field Music. The two bands had started out together as part of a collective in Sunderland, and shared a love of tricky hooks and complicated pop. The Brewis brothers next helped out on Maximo Park's 2014 album Too Much Information, helping to shape the songs in the early stages. All this togetherness was a lead-up to Frozen by Sight, a full-on collaboration between Smith and Peter Brewis. Based around Smith's travel writing and observations, the songs were built from the words up by Brewis, with help from his brother David on drums and co-production. The arrangements are as rich and rewarding as a listener at all familiar with Field Music's output would expect, full of perfectly placed basslines, deeply harmonious string parts, and carefully added percussion. The Brewis brothers surround Smith's poetic words and plainspoken vocals like a warm blanket, giving the record a peacefully intimate feel that's very comforting. Most of the songs are built around pianos, with the occasional guitar poking in, and it sounds very much like the kind of record Jimmy Webb was making when he wasn't having hits with Glen Campbell or Van Dyke Parks, or cavorting with the Beach Boys. Frozen isn't exactly like either of those artists' work, but it has the same attention to minute detail in the arrangements, a slightly fussy need to make everything sound perfect, and an intelligence that sets the music apart from most of what their peers are doing. That the record isn't as immediate as either band's work is no big surprise, but it does have a creeping impact that grows with each listen. A few tracks do have memorable choruses, like the artfully beautiful "Santa Monica," and a few moments where the beauty of the music may cause one to sit up and take notice, as on the opening of "Trevone." But mostly it's the kind of album to throw on while doing something contemplative like reading serious literature or having deep, quiet conversations. When the guests have gone and the book is put away, that's when the focus can shift to the intricacies of the music and the micro-focus of Smith's words. The album won't take the place of anyone's day job, but it is a nice diversion for all involved. ~ Tim Sendra