The Field Mice
Snowball / Skywriting / For Keeps
B- / B / B
f you’re a Sarah Records fanatic, you could easily pick out three bands better than The Field Mice. Fact is, though, each of those bands never sold nearly the amount of records that The Field Mice did. So what exactly was the secret of their sound? What made the Mice more accessible to listeners?
You could look at the to-the-point of ridiculous naivete inherent in the lyrics of Robert Wratten. It’s an easy set-em-up-knock-em-down strawman that’s been there since the invention of the word twee, most likely. But there’s something to it: the black and white longing of Wratten’s most naked observations speaks to a subset of listeners looking for easy answers. Wratten hardly seems to grow from 1989 to 1991, over the course of the three albums Snowball, Skywriting, and For Keeps that were just recently reissued by LTM. But, then again, do we expect someone that nearly defines the term arrested development to grow lyrically?
That’s why the lyrics always felt more like a comforting pillow to lay your head upon. Each time out Wratten was going to be bringing the same game, merely in different permutations. Like a great craftsman, you could see in each successive album where Wratten cut a tiny bit deeper into the layers of despondency and hope that made up their songbook.
But where Wratten’s lyrics were like a warm blanket just out of the dryer, the music of the Field Mice was almost suspiciously forward-thinking for the type of pop that they so often got lumped into. Instead of being mere perfect-naturalist-pop hucksters, the Mice more often than not welded together a variety of disparate elements into a unified whole. Light dance beats, jangly guitars, Wratten’s fey vocals: if you thought about it for a moment it’s hard to imagine with this all worked as well as it did.
And what about tracks like the half-hearted “Blue Monday” rip “Triangle,” where almost everything you knew about the group was turned on its head? Or the proto-Spiritualized shoegaze of “Other Galaxies”? Or the country stomp of “An Earlier Autumn”? While the Field Mice sometimes get criticized for sounding the same, it hardly seems right. Or is that just the obsessive in me talking?
As a fan of the group, it’s easy to say that all of this records are essential listening. Why wouldn’t you want to immerse yourself in the minute differences of Sarah Records most popular band. If you’re not, though, and just looking to pick up one, it really depends on what you want: do you want the best album? Go for For Keeps, wherein the group sounds its most expansive and sophisticated. Do you want their most interesting album? Easily Skywriting, where the music that backs Wratten takes strange twists and turns that would never be equaled. Do you want the pure stuff? You have to check out Snowball: the group is just finding itself, but you can hear the seeds of everything without all of the glossy production. Good luck and let me know how it goes.
Reviewed by: Sarah Kahrl
Reviewed on: 2005-04-15