I really liked Field Mouse's early work: the first few EPs and singles. I went to see them on what i think was their first venture down to the steamy, subtropical rain forest that i live in. But then their first album came out, and it was ... disappointing. The recording was flat, lifeless, and didn't have any sense of dynamics.
In my research writing the review, i discovered that the band committed what i consider to be a Cardinal Sin of being a new band: they self-produced the record. To me, that is the same as publishing a book of your own writing without having an editor, or putting your paintings in an exhibit without ever having someone else look at them. You need another set of eyes (or ears) to take an objective look (or listen) to whatever you are creating. Heck, even this stuff i write here on The Internet goes through an editing process to make sure i am not completely full of shit. (Hi Tracers!)
Apparently, Field Mouse learned from their mistake, a mistake that led to a flat, lifeless debut record that fell very short of what they are capable of doing. For Episodic they hired a recording engineer named Joe Reinhart from a Philadelphia band named Hop Along. I have never heard of that band before, but Field Mouse split their residence between NYC and Philly, so i guess this is someone they knew from that scene.
Whatever. The point is: Mr. Reinhart is a second set of ears, listening to this a little more objectively than the people who wrote the songs. And he does wonderful things here. He makes the music have a delicate touch: the guitars are subtle, the keyboard a faint undercurrent, and the voice(s) are definitely the top sonic layer, but not so much that it really stands out.
In fact, if i have one criticism of Mr. Reinhart's work here, it is that i would like the guitars to be a little louder at times. The way he records is to make sure that all the instruments have their place. However, as anyone who has gone to see bands play live knows, guitar, especially effected guitar like Andrew Furtal and Rachel Browne play here, can often swell up to pretty much drown out all other sounds. On the choruses, when those effects pedals get stomped, you would expect the guitar to get louder and start edging out the drums, bass, keys, and voices, but Reinhart manages to keep the sonic layers kind of even-keeled. It's, well, it is a stylistic choice that i would not have made, but i do respect it, especially when it is as well done as it is here. This type of recording technique can make things sound flat (a la the first Field Mouse album), but it does not sound that way here.
So, my (metaphorical) hat is off to Mr. Reinhart. A job well done. His recording style allows the bright, interesting pop of Field Mouse to shine. And shine it does. This is a fun record of toe-tapping tunes.
The Mirror starts the record off with a hint of noise and a fast pace. This song flies by, all guitars and drums. They slow it down and town down the guitar distortion to a nice echoing chime on Half-Life. This is an upbeat, happy tune with a bouncy little melody, the other females in the band (bassist Saysha Heinzman and keyboardist ZoŽ Browne) add backing vocals to Rachel Browne, the harmony working really nicely here in way that reminds me of Ramona-era Throwing Muses.
Accessory is a lovely dreampop tune with a hint of new wave thrown in. One guitar whines and the other jangles with that kind of reggae-influenced beat that a lot of post-punk bands had. Browne sings confessionally over this, "I used to come here by myself / Will you be my accessory?" It's a pretty song.
Field Mouse channels a Lush-like level of poppiness on The Order of Things. But on A Widow with a Terrible Secret the guitars jangle like Indoor Living-era Superchunk. This is a pretty song that grinds on the choruses, really chugging, and in the middle the music parts for a brief keyboard=solo as Rachel Browne "aahs" along. I like the way this one progresses.
Beacon has a guitar part that chimes mournfully, but otherwise is a nice chugging pop song. I like the hint of melancholy in the guitar, a progression of minor chords, i guess. Over and Out has a similar sadness to it, coupled with Browne's confessional singing. As the song grows, it gets angry, until at the end Browne is bellowing. The transition works well.
Female harmonies drive Do You Believe Me Now?, while guitarist Andrew Furtal channels The Edge with a chiming guitar riff. This is a rollicking good tune, just head-boppingly catchy and moving along at a great clip.
Never Would Have Known slows it down a little with jangly guitar and Browne singing a little lower. It's a nice tune. And then Field Mouse wrap up the record with Out of Context. This song has a kind of guitar tinkling that i associate with the mid 1980s, a sound that The Thompson Twins and Tears For Fears use. Donít let that turn you off -- this is a great pop tune that channels the 1980s pop era as it builds to a nice density, the guitars and keys all going at it like crazy.
When i listen to this record and think about their previous releases, it seems to me that Field Mouse have left behind a bit of their shoegazerish wanderings and concentrated more on plain pop music. It really works in that sense, and i am very happy with the record. If you enjoy girl-vocaled pop music, then Episodic is an excellent choice.