Field of Bronze are an alternative rock band hailing from Conroe, Texas. They originally formed in 2008 when childhood friends Joshua Pitt and Bobby Westmoreland got together, developing the dreamlike rock sound and poetic, storytelling aspect that now constitutes their musical modus operandi. Drummer Jonathan Hoffman joined them in 2011 and they released their debut album in 2012, God Bless You, and Goodnight. Tragically, bassist Bobby died a few years later and in 2017 Adam McFarland took over on bass, someone who had been recording and producing the band for years.
They have now completed another full length album, Memory Potion, which consists of nine songs. Opening track “Quest For Mystic Youth” is a perfect introduction to the band’s unique style. Set at a languid pace, the song is a slow burning epic featuring a stellar lead vocal performance from Joshua Pitt, who is also the group’s guitarist and primary songwriter. His distinctive voice lies somewhere between the emotive melancholy of Elliott Smith and the classic croon of Roy Orbison.
Behind the vocals, the band interlock seamlessly and the gradually building, brooding tension keeps you captivated to the end. It also features the poetic and sometimes oblique lyrical style that at times brought to mind the complex lyrics of King Crimson: “The allied legion’s hand eclipsed the setting sun calling forth ten thousand men….”.
The following “Antidote” is both musically and lyrically more straightforward, and is the first single to be released from the album. On the first verses, it has the gentle feel of a lullaby with an achingly pretty lead vocal melody, yet once again the music becomes more strident and expressive as the song progresses. Around the halfway mark it takes a Sonic Youth-style left turn, breaking into 6/8 time and exploding into a fireworks display of both dissonant and melodic guitar (they maintain this yin/yang balancing act throughout the album).
“Please Work For Me” is a sombre, mid-paced track that lyrically details a relationship in a bad place: “Lately you’re leaving me drained, you fill me up just to drink again…. I’m getting lost in the haze and something’s gonna change“. As with the first two songs, the band execute another masterclass in slow building intensity so that there’s a real sense of cathartic release as it reaches its climax.
Next comes “Zooey”, the second single from the album. It’s a haunting love song that captures the band’s gift for dreamy romantic lyricism that transcends the clichés and brought to mind rock’s finest lyricists such as Leonard Cohen, Conor Oberst and Nick Cave: “Earth sculpted two gemstones, crystal blue, the brightest lights of any worldly view….cast in your ivory face where vinyl vocal chords reverberate“. They aren’t the kind of lines you’ll hear too often in the Billboard Top 100, unfortunately.
Fifth song “Badminton” is the most minimal, low-key track here, consisting of just vocals and acoustic guitar. Despite this sparseness it still manages to build up to an anguished climax towards the end, featuring some more fantastic, mysterious lines, such as: “Your first big dreams will fail you…but if you make it through…. you may find your best at night by lowlight leaping in front of you…”.
The following “All You Girls” is a return to their signature sound; Josh Pitt’s croon is given an extra 50’s vibe with generous use of slapback delay (the recorded vocal sound that Elvis made famous). Lyrically, it’s another Rubik’s cube to decipher but could be interpreted as a cynical take on the shallowness of modern relationships: “Girl, you are my world, oh don’t you know? You’re my one and my only….and besides the other three you’re the only one I see…have I told you you’re all that I need?”. It’s a superb performance from the band overall, with rich, overdriven organ adding further colour to the sound.
“No Matter” continues the dream rock vibe, once again letting the musical tension build to breaking point before bursting with energy and agitation. It features surprisingly heavy guitars towards the end and more pointedly poetic, Dylan-esque lines: “You’re playing the thief , out strolling the moonlight…just stealing your sleep…”. Eighth track “Go Home” is perhaps the most bluesy song here, bringing to mind the ragged blues rock style that John Lennon favoured on The Beatles’ White Album. It’s another fine piece of songwriting with the album’s most succinct title hook and a track where the drumming and bass work really shine.
Final song “Poly5” is perhaps the album’s most beautiful and haunting, capturing the band’s gift for doomed romanticism. Starting with gently strummed acoustic guitar, Pitt croons another lullaby-style melody augmented by featured guests Caleb Pace (Folk Family Revival) on electric guitar and Sarah Smith (Caleb and the Homegrown Tomatoes) on Rhodes electric piano and vocal harmonies.
There’s a quiet desperation to the lyrics mirrored exquisitely by the music and the longing of love is portrayed by lines like, “Poly, I want you…in my bed is where I feel you…my grasp, a tender touching ….your clutch is faintly fleeting“. In the final lines, we also find the source of the album’s title: “Poly, I miss you…in my car is where I smell you…white rum, a violet motion, Evergreen, Memory Potion….”. A wonderful way to finish.
Overall, this is a superbly written and performed alt. rock album by a band who have carved out their own musical and lyrical universe. Combining elements of rock and blues stretching back to the 1950’s with more avant garde influences, Field of Bronze paint emotional landscapes in sound and take the listener through some intense territory. Like all the best albums, you feel as if you’ve been on a journey and are now a slightly altered person because of it. Highly recommended.