Album reviews: Backyard Tire Fire & The Week That Was

A pair of new albums from both sides of the Atlantic have found their way into my rotation this week.  From the good ol’ U.S. of A comes Backyard Tire Fire‘s The Places We Lived (Hyena Records), the followup to last year’s excellent Vagabonds and Hooligans.  Stylistically, this album shares many traits with its predecessor but is definitely not a rehash.

Checking in at just over the half-hour mark, frontman and guitarist Ed Anderson and company (brother Matt on bass, Tim Kramp on drums) get right down to business with the deceptively simple title track.  It didn’t make a strong impression on me when I first listened to it, but days later the main guitar riff was still rattling around my head, a tribute to Anderson’s songwriting.  The integration of synths and chimes (not to mention a brief, Beatle-esque trumpet part) into the song is a welcome touch.

The album boasts other strong songs, my favorites being “Shoulda Shut It” and “How in the Hell Did You Get Back Here?”.  The former is a rich, mid-tempo Wilco-like number that sounds like it could’ve been part of the Vagabonds and Hooligans sessions, while the latter is balls-out rocker that will probably sound phenomenal live (should BTF choose to include it in their set).

In contrast to Vagabonds, The Places We Lived is heavy on slower, piano-driven songs, a creative direction that may alienate some fans.  That’s not to say guitars aren’t still a big part of the BTF sound, they’re simply a bit further down in the mix compared to past efforts.  What is undeniable is that due to their presence and also to the band’s devotion to analog recording methods, this album exudes a warm, down-home vibe.

What holds this album back from overtaking Vagabonds as the group’s best work is the inclusion of a couple of decent tracks that don’t feel fully formed (“Everybody’s Down” and “One Wrong Turn”), and a feeling of sameness on some of the tracks.  There is, however enough strong material here to make The Places We Lived worth getting, and getting into.

Track listing:

“The Places We Lived”
“Shoulda Shut It”
“Everybody’s Down”
“Time With You”
“Welcome to the Factory”
“How in the Hell Did You Get Back Here?”
“Rainy Day (don’t go away)”
“One Wrong Turn”
“Legal Crime
“Home Today”

The second album up for review is the eponymous debut of Peter Brewis’s new project, The Week That Was.  Brewis is a name that should be familiar to fans of quality indie music.  He and brother David co-founded Field Music in 2004, and released two outstanding studio records.  They stopped being a band in 2007 and are now a brand, allowing the brothers to pursue their musical muses without the restrictions they felt being in Field Music placed on them.

David was the first to release a new album from the Field Music brand School of Language, the superb Sea From Shore.  Now it’s Peter’s turn with The Week That Was (Memphis Industries), released last week in the UK and this week in America.  It’s definitely a darker and more complex effort than I expected, but it is a totally satisfying one as well.

A lot of comparisons have been made between this album and early ’80s efforts from Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel, and while I have never bothered with Kate Bush I can buy the Gabriel references.  The heavy percussion and guitar stabs of tracks like “Learn to Learn” and “Scratch the Surface” recall Gabriel’s third album right and Abacab/Mama-era Genesis away.  Field Music’s signature sound is all over this record, however, just in slightly skewed form.  Think of the moodier and denser tracks from Tones of Town and you’ll get the idea.

The Week That Was is actually a concept album, dealing with the twin strands of crime and our relationship with mass media.  It was inspired both by Brewis’s self-imposed one-week retreat from television and by the crime fiction of Paul Auster.  The problem is that with only a half-hour to tell its story, the album is more about ideas and impressions than a concrete story.  But that’s a minor inconvenience when weighed against the music, which is highly rewarding.

While there are not as many “wow” moments on this album as there are on Sea From Shore, The Week That Was is the rare album that actually does get better with subsequent listens – so those seeking instant gratification should look elsewhere (more immediate songs like “The Airport Line” and “Scratch the Surface” not withstanding).  Now that two excellent post-Field Music albums have been released, I can confidently declare that the future looks bright for fans of all things Brewis.

Track listing:

“Learn to Learn”
“The Good Life”
“The Story Waits for No One”
“It’s All Gone Quiet”
“The Airport Line”
“Yesterday’s Papers”
“Come Home”
“Scratch the Surface”
“A Waltz in the Park” (bonus track exclusive to eMusic)

Video bonus!  Check out the promo clip for “Scratch the Surface”, directed by (and starring) Peter Brewis: