Oh it’s always the little gems, isn’t it, the things you stumble across that make everything worthwhile.
At the end of last year in my local street-press, the always reliable BMA Magazine, there was a series of lists of best albums of 2012; I love these lists, because usually I’ll find the next album I’ll buy. In one list, amongst names of bands and singer-songwriters that I’d never heard of – that terrible but sure sign of middle-age – was a reference to an attractively reflective album by a band called Foreign Fields who’d recorded a collection of songs in an abandoned Wisconsin warehouse in the middle of winter, or something like that. On my laptop I pressed a few buttons, found Foreign Fields’ Bandcamp site (it’s their only web presence), had a bit of a listen, and within minutes ordered the album and got the download onto my laptop. So maybe the modern world isn’t so rubbish, though I’m still open to the distinct possibility.
The album, which is rather enticingly called Anywhere But Where I Am, is a suite of such intimacy, beauty, melancholy, all these words that I love. The Nashville-based Eric Hillman and Brian Holl really do know how to craft a song out of the simplest ingredients: acoustic guitars, a piano maybe, perhaps a cello, all the while harmonised perfect-pitch voices drift and lilt over the top, a hint of percussion (sometimes it’s nothing more than a series of hand-claps), though if you listen closely you’ll also hear sweet sweet field recordings. But there’s nothing ‘slacker’ about this; every second of sound is put together so lovingly. There are distinct colours and shades of Nick Drake, and Bon Iver, and Sigur Ros, but this is also a sound like no other – somehow Foreign Fields manage to be both pastoral and domestic, so small and delicate in scale but also filmic in the moods and suggestions. There’s no point singling out a song; everything is of the finest quality. And there’s variety, and contrasts, and depths. Brilliant.
Even though here in Australia we’re not yet done with summer, I know that when autumn comes around and then winter finally hits, I’ll light the fire, pour myself a glass of cheap plonk, and keep on listening to Anywhere But Where I Am. Why this record isn’t on a major label I have no idea. I’m just so glad that I found it. Because Foreign Fields remind me of why I could never live without music when it’s as good as this.