I think it is no secret that i like Field Mouse. I have raved about their debut 7" record, their tour CD-R, seeing them live, and i even reviewed a side project.
This record came out almost a year ago. I pre-ordered the vinyl from the band in a flurry of excitement. But i have not written about it yet, and that is because, well, they could have done a lot better.
I'll just spit it out: this record is mixed as if the only thing important in the band is Rachel Browne's vocals and lyrics. I have always considered the roar of Andrew Futral's heavily-effected guitar to be rather important. I guess i always considered them a shoegaze band. But this record is recorded as if they are a New Wave-influenced, singer-songwriter project.
Does Field Mouse consider themselves to be a New-Wave-influenced, singer-songwriter project? Has the way their previous songs sounded when recorded led them to be disappointed in that work? When i saw them at The Masquerade in 2013, they definitely came across as a shoegazerish band. Live, the guitar was the most important element in their sound. It defined them, but maybe that is not the effect they intended.
I guess that maybe i never got what they were going for, and thus am disappointed in this achievement of their vision.
There are two other theories though.
The first is that they have changed since those first few recordings and the time that i saw them, deciding that they are a singer-songwriter project with slight New Wave tendencies. I guess that people, and bands, do evolve.
The second theory is that they produced this poorly. You see, according to the liner notes on my pre-ordered vinyl this record was recorded by Andrew Futral and Rachel Browne. Futral is a very talented guitarist. Ms. Browne writes interesting songs, has a lovely voice, and can play guitar and keyboards.
Producing a record though -- that is a unique skill. It is a talent and not everyone has it. I sometimes feel like i harp on this fact too often here on EvilSponge, but really people -- production is HUGELY important. It is the difference between an album that sounds dynamic and lively and an album that sounds flat and dull.
Hold Still Life has quite a few good songs on it, but overall it is flat and dull. Browne's voice is layered over the music so much that it is often hard to hear the guitar haze under the vocals. Trust me people, in a live setting the vocalist never overpowers effected guitars...
The record has about 40 minutes worth of music, and since i preordered it i got a bonus 4 acoustic tracks in my download. The acoustic tracks are neat in a way, but add nothing to the record. And i am not going to go over the whole record. It's just ... not as good as it could have been.
If you like mid-tempoed New Wave behind clever lyrics, then this is a fine choice. If you thought (like i did) that this would be a record of Field Mouse's shoegazery pop, then this isn't for you.
Still, there are a few moments that stand out as pretty good, despite everything. The ultraslick and flat production style leads them to sound a lot like Lush (another terribly over-produced band) on Tomorrow Is Yesterday and Bright Lights. Tomorrow Is Yesterday has a really catchy rhythm and Bright Lights is a pretty and lethargic tune that builds to a good roar. Both tunes work well with the production.
I also think that the track Reina works great as recorded. The guitarwork is a lot fuzzier, the overdrive making it seem louder, and guitar loudness is what this record needs more of! I also like the low, sexy growl that Browne sings with on the choruses, really belting it out.
On Water in the Valley they layer in some synth strings, and the added depth helps make the song a little more vibrant.
Some other tracks are kind of neat. Two Ships really channels new wave, like Thompson Twins or something from that era.
And i really want to like Everyone But You which, if it were recorded better, would be the natural follow-up to You Guys Are Gonna Wake Up My Mom. Browne's lyrics are great and the guitar channels a little bit of Asobi Seksu. But the guitars aren't loud enough, and the way her voice is so prominent makes it seem like i am supposed to pay attention to the lyrical cleverness. If you want me to appreciate the words, write a book of poetry. In a song i want balance, and in a shoegazery song i want the guitars to wail at me.
But i don't get that wail, that vibrancy. I just feel that there is a lot of wasted potential here. I want to like this record a lot more than i do. It just ... doesn't live up to the hype i had built up for the band in my own head. (And yes, i do in fact remember what the poet Flava Flav reminded us of regarding hype...) I wish they had hired a producer, someone who understands what works well on record as opposed to what sounded fine in the studio...
Maybe they will hire one next time.