A gorgeous, moving display, but also a redundant one.
Field Mouse – Hold Still Life
A shoegaze band named Field Mouse. At first glance, things couldn’t be any more typical, right? Here’s yet another female-fronted, searingly emotive band taking cues directly from My Bloody Valentine; here’s yet another band with the word “Field” in the name (try not to get them confused with The Field or especially Field Music); here’s yet another band with the word “Mouse” in the name (if you haven’t heard of deadmau5 or Modest Mouse, can you teach me how not to feel restless without an internet connection?). Inspecting more closely, though, Field Mouse are a foursome with a simultaneous playfulness and dreariness all their own, despite these traits’ clear influences. Their latest album, Hold Still Life, is a gorgeous, moving display of how tactfully they dabble in well-covered terrain, although this tendency can occasionally prove problematic.
Hold Still Life immediately declares its intentions and influences, leaving no doubt as to what its listeners will encounter over its not-quite-forty-minute runtime. “A Place You Return to in a Dream” is a wise choice for an opening track, its bleak guitar roar and wispy, nasal female vocals dipping into an alternate world where Loveless is several shades darker. “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” follows, and its trippy title hints at the hallucinatory nature of this track. It’s also a great continuation of “Place”‘s motifs: restrained but blossoming guitar roars straddle the borderline between shoegaze and garage rock as vocalist Rachel Browne muses ethereally.
The songwriting methodology of “Place” and “Tomorrow” reaches its apex on album highlight “Everyone But You”, Hold Still Life‘s most outrightly sugary moment. A small glimmer of light breaks through the intro’s expansive guitars, ensuring that the chorus’s incredibly dark, haunting chorus lands as an unforgettable surprise. Browne remains restrained in her delivery, yet undeniably establishes a gut connection. Actually, this innate bond is felt often throughout the album: “Reina” and “Horizon City” are two of many similar songs here that, despite being a bit predictable, still succeed in their goal of aiming for the heart.
Redundancy is Hold Still Life‘s main problem, and it’s one that could have possibly been avoided if its tracks were presented in a different order. The album is pretty consistent until its ninth track, “Bright Lights”, a drop-dead gorgeous slow-burner that reminisces of mosquitoes buzzing, industrial lights shining on a broken sunset, and adolescent heartbreak. It’s an unexpected sound for Field Mouse, and it pays off in spades: its eerie but endearing guitar sparkle strengthens Browne’s graceful, deft vocal performance. “Kids”, the album’s only percussion-less tune, follows two tracks later; it’s another track that’s memorable simply for how different it is. Were these two songs placed earlier in the album, it might well be a more satisfying listen.
Or maybe the problem is that, overall, Hold Still Life is almost too consistent. Distinguishing “Happy” from “Asteroid” isn’t always an easy task; the first handful of tracks, with the exception of the new-wave-indebted “Two Ships”, sound only slightly different from one another. This uniformity isn’t nearly the worst of problems an album can have; in this case, Field Mouse’s songwriting is strong enough to render it only a mild setback. Hold Still Life certainly has no bad tracks, just a few too many similar moments. It’s nevertheless a great document from a worthwhile group, but one that suggests that it’s better to grab life by the horns than to hold it still.