Future Islands and Double Dagger, the former a synthpop outfit and the latter a bunch of rowdy rockers who recently called it a day, are both popular artists in their own Baltimore scene. With that in mind, the collaboration between William Cashion of the former and Bruce Willen of the latter as Peals is an intriguing one.
One would be forgiven for thinking that the fruits of their work would be upfront and in-your-face. Instead, Walking Field provides plenty of ambience. It was determined early on in their formation that there would be no bass or computers used to construct their soundscapes. It’s a set-up that could appear limited on paper, but the reality is comprised of eight serene instrumentals that are light years away from the energy of their past projects. Whether this will strike a core with their existing fanbase depends on how open-minded they’re willing to be; but they’ll be well rewarded if they do take the plunge.
The opening cut, Floating Leaf, fully embraces this new aesthetic. A mysterious loop of noise opens the track to build a small amount of tension before intertwining electric and acoustic guitars break the ice. Before it finally surrenders to spacey feedback, the sheer positivity of its melody is close to magical.
If listeners can persist through Floating Leaf then the following tracks will satisfy in equal measure. All Peals songs start with one central piece of noise – whether that’s simple plucking, or loops – with more textures carefully added as they go along. With the exception of the rather sprightly, and short, Tiptoes In The Parlour, they all follow a similar formula and the results are consistently good.
Against the beautiful backdrop that William Cashion’s guitars provide on Belle Air is Bruce Willen’s toy piano, which manages to sound both innocent and disorientating. Lonestar is about as close as they get to making something that could be considered straightforward, due to the fact that there is a rhythm of sorts that underpins everything, whilst the roar of screeching feedback that closes out Believers is a highly effective substitute for dialogue.
Walking Field is an LP that is as optimistic as it is gentle. As much as there isn’t anything new about it, it is entrancing and highly appealing. By creating compositions that are full of space, Cashion and Willen have hit on the most back-to-basics approach. Guitar albums should be made like this.
If there is a grumble, it’s the relative brevity of the album. Sure, it’s still a respectable 44 minutes long, but why only eight tracks? Maybe it’s being greedy, but here’s hoping for more on their follow-up. This is a quiet triumph that is remarkably captivating and doesn’t need any up-to-the-minute technological tools to improve it further.