Before diving into the review, here’s a little context for what we’re talking about. Drifters is a 1929 silent film directed by Scottish filmmaker and documentarian John Grierson. The documentary — “documentary” being a term Grierson actually coined — focuses on Britain’s North Sea fishing industry and features vibrant images of the day to day life of fishermen leaving town to go out on the often treacherous water. In 2013, the Berkwick Film and Media Arts Festival commissioned Field Music to write and perform a score to accompany the classic film — the result being a handful of live performances in the UK, as well as a studio recording first released exclusively on Record Store Day 2015 and now available everywhere. I tried to listen to the music while playing the movie on YouTube, but it never really synced the way it should so I’ll mainly be reviewing the music on it’s own without the film in context.
Music For Drifters works as a concept piece, with different themes coming and going throughout the album. After a short overture-like introduction, we begin our walk through “Village.” The track relies a lot on a classic Rhodes piano sound over the march of guitar, bass, and drum, in unison, almost as if the guitar is a wave and the piano is the mist in the air. It’s a bit reminiscent of ’70s Herbie Hancock, with a lot of jazz fusion influence allowing the piano to keep the swing feel while the band stays in unison. The track ends with a wild guitar slide that leads into the action of “Engine,” a short track that uses a faster tempo to mimic the start of the boat’s engine.
After a few short interludes, we get into our first real jam, “Casting Out” (including parts 1, 2, and 3). The track seems to draw the whole album together, layering together many of the short themes into a cohesive piece. The track also features a significant amount of guitar work, with many short solo passages accented by cymbal hits. When “Pt. 3” starts, the whole band comes together to get back into the march tempo present in “Village.” The track ends with a segue into “Night-time,” a gentle lullaby with piano and guitar.
“Wake Up” features a really well executed call and response by the piano and guitar, this time a little stronger than “Night-time” with sharper notes prevailing. “Hauling” is one of the funkiest jams on the record, giving the drummer a motown groove to work with while the keys goes into more dissonant territory. The guitar and bass come together during the breaks and give the track some real power, matching each other’s lines over cymbal hits. “The Storm Gathers” continues on with the funk, this time allowing the drums a little more girth and introducing a Leslie organ into the background to add tension. The band’s in a fight with the sea, the drummer’s cymbal crashes and snare flams tossing the rest of the outfit into a deep groove. When we get to “The Ships Ride Through/Quayside, Pt. 1”, the band prevails, everything has calmed, and we’re back to the peaceful melodies present on the earlier tracks.
“Quayside, Pt. 2” contains some of the brightest and most optimistic sounds on the album. While the guitar plays a repeating melody to seemingly signal movement, bells and a glockenspiel (as well as other various percussion) come to the forefront, giving the track an upbeat feel and leading into the final song, “Ends of the Earth.” On an album so heavily layered with piano and organ, it’s only fitting that it ends with a tremolo-laden organ fadeout.
At just under 40 minutes, Music for Drifters is a relatively easy album to listen to in one sitting, as I would imagine that’s how it’s meant to be heard. While listening, I tend to find myself thinking about the rocky coastline of the Atlantic Ocean in northern Massachusetts, the way the waves look crashing the breakers and foaming out the sides, the sound of a million tiny rocks being pulled back into the surf, and the feeling that over that long blue horizon there is a vast body of water we’ve yet to fully explore. In Drifters’ words: cue cymbal crash — fade out.
Overall the sound quality is stellar, with a few notable exceptions. On side A, there are a few spots where I get a noise like a hard sine wave for just a fraction of a second, noticeable mainly because it’s during a lighter passage in the music. Looking at the record, you can actually see the error in the grooves. I checked with Memphis Industries about it, but it seems to just be an issue on my particular record. Still, it can be jarring to hear a loud buzz in the middle of a quiet piano part.
The album is packaged in a gorgeous metallic silver gatefold, with the disc being pressed on silver vinyl. The art is very minimal, with water and waves being the main theme. Looking at the cover straight on, it has almost a mirror finish with light reflecting all over. Its a very beautiful design and fits extremely well with the overall theme of the album.
A download code is included and is attached to the inner sleeve. I really love that; I’m not a huge fan of download cards that fall out or get stuck in the sleeve when you put the album back in.
“Casting Out (Pts. 1,2,3),” “Introduction,” & “Hauling.”
“Music for Drifters” is available on vinyl at Memphis Industries.