Field Report: Marigolden

“Kiss me shy and I will love you like a lamprey,” Chris Porterfield sings on “Michelle”, a downcast song on Marigolden, the second release by his band Field Report. It’s an odd line, jutting out from the song at an obtuse angle and snagging your attention—at least until you remember that a lamprey is a parasitic fish that lives by burrowing into the skin of its host. It’s not especially romantic imagery; in fact, it’s possibly more visceral than Porterfield intended for such a gentle track. He certainly sings it like a love song. Marigolden is full of similarly head-scratching turns of phrases, similes and metaphors that are aggressively poetic. “His tessellated love is all around,” goes “Enchantment”. On “Summons”, Porterfield admits, “I’ve been pissing coffee, quinine, and lime.” He might want to see a doctor for that. 

Porterfield may be best known as a former member of DeYarmond Edison, the Wisconsin supergroup-in-retrospective that included Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and Brad and Phil Cook of Megafaun. It took him five years to pen the songs on his 2012 self-titled debut, after which he toured constantly, quit drinking, and pared his band down to a tight quartet. If his former bandmates emphasize music over lyrics, Porterfield deals with words over notes. Rooted in acoustic guitar strums, sustained piano chords, and post-Emma soundscapes, these arrangements are spare and gentle and occasionally obligatory as they tenderly cradle the painstakingly wrought lyrics. When the band reach for something more, however, the results have a lot more personality: “Wings” layers instruments and synths against a steady rhythm to create a sort of rustic kosmische sound that could sustain a full album.

But Field Report isn’t a band exactly. It’s every bit the songwriter project its anagram name suggests. Porterfield writes long, word-dense songs that typically lack choruses and bridges, but usually compensate with fluttery melodic lines and strong hooks. First single “Home (Leave the Lights On)” quickens excitedly around its bright and unabashedly sentimental refrain, which conjures the exhaustion and excitement of the final leg of a long roadtrip: “Leave the lights on, ’cause it might be nighttime when I get there.” As a wordsmith, Porterfield is certainly distinctive, at times insistently so. Nights are “bruiseblack” in these songs, and women tend to “smell like saffron.” Such details are meant to evoke particular emotions and sensations, but they tend to be distracting and meaningless beyond their own desperate desire to mean something.

Marigolden fares best when it loses the florid similes and addresses character and story. On the piano ballad “Ambrosia”, he recounts his wayward adolescence, when he dipped Skoal with the sheriff’s son. “He was cruel to the other kids just for fun,” Porterfield recalls. “I never had the stones to tell him off.” That kid committed suicide “on a golf course with a gun,” and those details are horrifying in their specificity and banality. The song treats the kid’s depression and death not like a bully’s comeuppance, but more like the tragedy of someone who never earned forgiveness or redemption. This handful of lines contains an entire life—albeit one cut sadly short—and it’s easily the most affecting moment on the album. It should come as no coincidence that it’s also the passage with the simplest and most eloquently plainspoken lyrics. 

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork

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