Review by Reed Burnam of Chris Field's Sub-Conscious
To say that Chris Field’s record Sub-Conscious (Tosca Road, 2005) is a trip, well that may be the truth, but it still doesn’t manage to do it much justice at all. Some other verb denoting movement, discovery, or exploration would perhaps work better, and while those coming to mind are not in short supply, probably better not to try and sum this record up too much. There’s a lot going on here in this, Field’s debut full-length work but by no means his first stab at a cohesive collection of music (his output in the realm of film/trailer scores is a pretty impressive in itself). Cinematic, orchestral, expansive, ambient, choral, emotive, melodic, and best of all varied, Sub-Conscious is a panoply of high vistas and lush soundscapes that are well-suited for dramatic film scores just as well as for your headphones.
Field is no stranger to music for films, and his laundry list of scoring credits manages to encompass varied industry work for the recent Twilight series, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, as well as a full album of music for the pioneering Origin Systems’ ultimately unreleased Ultima X (recorded with an 81-piece orchestra in Seattle’s Bastyr Chapel). Among a looong list of other works. Very cool stuff indeed.
Sub-Conscious is Field’s first stand-alone, album-length study, and the contours of his cinema hall pedigree take well to the extended album format. One gets the sense while listening to Sub-Conscious that buried in there somewhere between the swelling strings, smart arrangements, and tight instrumentation is a cohesive plot-line to be uncovered, though one of the record’s stronger aspects is its propensity to morph into something else entirely just when you think you’ve got a handle on the contents. From inspired album opener “Floating”, to the orchestral, soaring, and gothically tinged “Ave Maria” and the stylishly flowing gossamer-descending-into-cinematic distortion of “Five”, to the 2 AM honky-tonk jazz bar aesthetic of “Blue” and the meditative, subterranean title track “Sub-Conscious”, the album lives and breathes and manages to stylistically zig and zag effectively, showcasing Field’s diversified creative range. Though some may be put off by the emotional depth present here or else the lack of vocals (both subjective opinions that can’t be remedied, perhaps), overall the record is a satisfying listen that should bear repeating.
Adding to the allure is the musical cast Field has assembled for the record, coupled with the larger production value, which is all top-notch. The arrangements are crisp and competent, not too busy or overwrought, and managing to move confidently into the many peaks and valleys herein. Field’s playing is noticeably seasoned, and the album sounds pretty huge at points, such as when the drums kick in around the 4:15 mark on “Five”, or else makes good use of the interstices between the thematic elements, such as with the sprawling 14-minute “Blue”, which manages to bleed from a bleary-eyed, sleepy-though-not-sleeping underground jazz club aesthetic into a languid cosmic cowboy space odyssey, complete with a mournful, stoned pedal steel that hangs in the track’s neon air-lock. Mid-album uplifter “D&A” makes use of a skyward-gazing sundance of a central progression that is eerily reminiscent of Hendrix’s “1983…A Merman I Should Turn to Be”, eventually splintering outwards into an electro breakbeat that effectively nails down the raging swells. “Days” is another high-point, moody and emotive and featuring well-placed strings and guitars to good effect. All this comes on the heels of the aforementioned brooding and often beautiful orchestral swaths that color much of the album, and the impressive choral vocal pieces such as those at the outset of the cool, calming energy of “Mother”, making for a varied listen.
From the outset of the album, it’s no secret that Field has put together an inspired and professional cast of arrangements and musicians, and the music is soundtrack-ready and yet imbued with the groundedness and solidarity befitting a music-only release. If his resume is any indication, Field’s film output is not likely to let up anytime soon. However, one hopes that this won’t be his last record of such musically-centered voyages.
Review by: Reed Burnam
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)