One of the most welcome surprises to land in the RGM inbox this week is the new self-produced EP from Field Guide. Hailing from Manitoba, Canada, Field Guide is the brainchild of singer-songwriter Dylan MacDonald and Full Time is a beautifully hushed quartet of thoughtfully written, warmly delivered songs of heartbreak, loss and leaving. Artists trading in confessional acoustic intimacy are pretty easy to come by but what sets Field Guide apart from the crowd is the lyrical quality and the careful, understated execution in what they do. Rather than wallowing in regret, the songs take a more philosophical path, which oddly makes this record feel more like a pick-me-up than a drag-me-down. The songs are sad but matter-of-fact; sober but wry.
Title track ‘Full Time’ dissects a relationship that’s come to an end but ultimately focuses positively on its resonance and meaning and, in turn, on hope for the future. It’s smoothly done (replete with a positively huggable electric guitar break) but retains a vulnerable edge – imagine John Mayer covering a Counting Crows song and you’ll be getting close. Next, ‘Easy’ starts off as a song about fresh starts but ironically becomes steeped in reflection with MacDonald’s emotional, vibrato-laden delivery putting me in mind of Jamie Lawson and Joe Firstman. The piano-led ‘Guest Room’ looks back on a relationship that, at best, has lost its spark and spontaneity and at worst is unsalvageable. The tragedy here is lovingly cradled in distant strings, gently brushed drums, mellow woodwind and tremolo guitar. ‘Stop Myself’, driven by acoustic guitar, is soulful and lyrically more opaque but closes the set well, with more of those underplayed strings and woodwind-doing-seagull noises (every record, however short, needs moments like that, surely).
If, like me, you can find yourself getting a little emotional when listening to this sort of thing then rest assured that the tears you cry listening to Full Time will be those of release and recognition rather than pity and pain. It’s an excellent, if modest introduction to Dylan MacDonald’s talents as a songwriter and performer and a great reminder that it’s often the softest voices that speak to us the most powerfully.
Review by Rich Barnard