I am a big fan of the music of Christopher Porterfield, the lead and main songwriter of Field Report. I followed his work as Conrad Plymouth and have retroactively become familiar with his work as part of DeYarmond Edison. The Conrad Plymouth releases have been some of my very favourite records of the last few years (Comrade Plymouth was my top pick for our records of 2011 feature) and Fergus Falls (originally featured on the Conrad Plymouth EP) has been on constant rotation for what seems a very long time in its various forms. Indeed it is Fergus Falls which opens Field Report’s self-titled debut album, providing existing fans with a familiar reference point (and new listeners get to hear one of the best-written songs of the last few years straight up). There are several other tracks on the album which have previously been released under the Conrad Plymouth moniker, but each has been re-imagined with the backing of a full band. Each of these songs are constructed with plucked guitars, subtly emotive synths and good old echo-y pedal steel, forming an undeniably American blend of folk, rock and country (I suppose Americana is a good description).
But for me the album’s strength lies in the writing, which borders more on prose than the melodic lyrical writing of most other bands. Each track shares the high-quality writing and storytelling which, at least for me, is what makes anything Porterfield has released thus far so special. For example, a line in I Am Not Waiting Anymore goes:
“I spent eight long years working on my screenplay; it’s a teen movie with young actresses that plays to the middle-aged. I have read between the lines and I have been wrong every time, I burned it on the altar but I am fine. I am not waiting anymore”.
And perhaps my favourite line from Fergus Falls:
“I was concealing his kid under his crew-neck state school sweatshirt while he grinned off in the distance behind prescription shades and they were blocking out the clouded-out sun while he was hoping against a daughter and no-one saw my banners, my bruises, my flares, my flags”.
The “new” tracks follow a similar blueprint and the storytelling aspect is never more apparent than on Taking Alcatraz, a song about Native American activist Richard Oakes who led an 18-month occupation of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco between 1969 and 1971, before being shot and killed aged just 30. The song is brilliant and it attempts to say more in its five and a half minute duration than most artists do in entire albums. Other previously unheard tracks include the laid-back In The Year Of The Get You Alone and the dark Chico The American which is all gin drinkers and country blues. Another standout is the closer, Route 18 which opens with the line:
“Elizabeth said last night the lake roared like the ocean, I was landlocked under the orange-white solstice moon. Imagining a place just meant to conjure up another, three degrees of hometown disconnect in my unborn daughter’s room”.
The song goes on to pensively chart several generations of life in some American town, dealing with the weight of time and family history in the vein of classic American literature. I have recently been reading ‘Neon Bible’ the debut novel by John Kennedy Toole (the author of one of my all-time favourite books ‘A Confederacy Of Dunces’), which is a nostalgic and reflective look at family in small-town USA, in a style that is Flannery O’Connor meets Harper Lee. Maybe it is just the proximity of me reading this book and hearing the song (Route 18) in full, and there certainly aren’t any real thematic links between the two, but the general feel and nostalgia of both formed some kind of link in my mind. This is, if nothing else, a testament to the high standard of Porterfield’s writing and should be taken as high praise. It also raises another important aspect of the record, which is that music such as this should ideally be heard during a period of peace or isolation, its full effect will not be realised if there are a number of other things vying for your attention, much in the same way it is difficult to read a book properly whilst listening to music or having a conversation.
The album is available now to stream in its entirety via Billboard and will be released on September 11th on Partisan Records. A great recording of a performance at The Mercury Lounge in New York City is also available via the excellent nyctaper, a free download of the set is available in good quality here.