School of Language

Old Fears

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After releasing another predictably fine album, Plumb, with Field Music in 2012, the band's David Brewis threw himself into a crazily busy schedule of collaboration, production, scoring silent films, and remixing, while also finding time to tour with Eleanor Friedberger. Somehow he managed to squeeze in another School of Language album too. Old Fears is his second solo album and again he plays almost everything, and again it sounds like Field Music, but a little more focused and personal this time out. Brewis is a master at constructing songs that sound like really intense games of Jenga, with all the pieces fitting together just so and his clear falsetto vocals floating above delicately enough so as to not disturb the architecture. Like Sea from Shore, Old Fears is an art pop record that balances the two seemingly at odds sides perfectly. Songs like "Suits Us Better," with its complicated drum patterns and intricate arrangements, feel like the work of a painstaking artist, while his achingly pure vocals and heartbroken lyrics are pop at its most melancholy. The rest of the album follows this pattern closely, perfectly balanced and satisfying on both levels. The songs feel like they were constructed on graph paper, with jackhammering drums way out front in the mix, all sorts of interesting synth sounds bubbling around the edges, and carefully placed little bits of craft in the margins. These constructs are then filled with Brewis' powerful vocals, his melancholy lyrics, and knack for coming up with challenging, yet somehow comforting, melodies. At its best, like on the insistent "Dress Up" or the slow, sad love-lost song "So Much Time," the album rates with the best work Brewis has done, solo or with Field Music, only with a little more intimacy this time around, a little more heart and soul. It's a nice approach that helps Old Fears really connect with the listener. Sometimes on a Field Music album, or on Sea from Shore, one could zone out on the words and just listen to the music without feeling anything other than admiration for the craft involved. This time the emotional waters run just as deep as the musical ones, and it stands as some of the best brainy, heartfelt pop around.

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