Album of the Week: Field Guides – This is just a place

Time-lapse cameras are often situated in forests to capture a plant’s growth from seed to full bloom. The final product, often seen in David Attenborough documentaries, is electrifying to the senses, the lapsing of the frames making it appear like the plant flourished in minutes rather than months. A Field Guides song is kind of like that, starting off simply, a surface-level buzz soon starts to propel the rhythm as instruments drop in and out, until by the end you have something fully formed – the most intricate details, the colours patterning the leaf’s edges, shining brightest.

With Benedict Kupstas, the leader of the Field Guides collective, gathering field recordings,from far-flung locales like Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica, Parco Nationale delle Cinque Terre in Italy, and Sapsucker Woods in Ithaca, for the record, the importance they place upon nature is obvious. Bird chirps often signal the start of songs, while that surface-level buzz alluded to earlier is ever-present, as if the album plays out over nature’s rituals – bees pollinating flowers, flowers growing to face the sun, life, death. 

Kupstas and his ensemble create sound-worlds that reflect the unpredictability of nature, how prey animals awake one day not knowing if they’ll make it to the next. ‘Year of The Horseshoe’ feels like it’s dislocating, shattering into small pieces until an angelic combination of guitar, violin and vocals saves it from the brink. It then takes on another life-form as drums pitter-patter and melodies build on top of each other. ‘Art Fiction No.53’ climaxes with almost a minute of pure instrumentation, comprised of reverberating guitars and jarring strings. The songs are allowed to stretch their legs, unfurl over time, reach their natural conclusion. 

Vocalist Jamie Reeder’s role in the record is as important as any, her high-notes providing the perfect opposition to Kupstas’ warm baritone. The two often sound as if they’re engaging in a traditional call-and-response, a type of singing most often associated with religion. They oppose each other best on lead single, ‘Guessing at Animals’ – a song about Kupstas experiencing infatuation for the first time following the dissolution of a long-term relationship. Reeder questions “Hey Benny boy are you ready”, before Kupstas retorts “I’m not sure, not just yet / Can this go on a little more?”That last question, “Can this go on a little more?”, parroted by the song’s listeners, so reluctant are we for the golden shimmer of Kupstas’ new love to fade.

Such is the depth of ‘This is just a place’, I feel I’m only at the start of discovering its infinite qualities despite multiple listens. Burrow in its Alice-in-the-Wonderland-like rabbit hole and who knows what you might come out with.   

‘This is just a place’ is out now on Whatever’s Clever

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