Field Division is Evelyn Taylor and Nicholas Frampton. Four years on from the sumptuous dream-folk of their debut EP, 2014’s Reverie State, the Des Moines duo flex all their lung-power on their debut album, Dark Matter Dreams. Written on the road, where the duo has been living even when not touring, it’s a sweeping album with rock vigour and the spark of deeply held convictions, nurtured in the face of widespread modern disillusionment. Vintage influences include Buckingham Nicks, Led Zeppelin, All Things Must Pass, The Beatles, and the 1960s/1970s Laurel Canyon scene, but make no mistake: this is an album that lives and breathes for today.
As the duo explain, “Our goal with Dark Matter Dreams was to retain the raw beauty and dynamics that were captured on Reverie State, but to expand on a more driving, forward-moving feeling in the music. The energy of a live band was something we wanted to capture.” That mission is honoured as soon as opening track ‘River in Reverse’ surges forward, guitars flickering like headlights in the night as Taylor explores light and dark dualities and lays out a mission statement in a luminous vocal. “Let’s transcend it all,” she sings, seeding a theme the duo will return to.
‘Big Sur, Golden Hour’ holds tight to core principles, invoking folk festivals gone by for its own sturdy idealism. “I’m done running with fear,” the duo harmonises, before Frampton’s guitars and a lavish string arrangement mount in a glinting show of combined power. ‘Farthest Moon’ showcases the duo at their loveliest as Taylor reflects on heartache, while ‘Lately’ finds Frampton offering “a smoke and a shot of gin” to an alter-ego whose bloody nails betray deep anxieties: this, to be sure, is a lived-in album with grit under its fingernails.
As Taylor sings on the psychedelically slanted ‘Innisfree (Let’s Be the Peace Now)’, “We’re no strangers to the night.” That streak of darkness lends muscle and counterpoint to the duo’s spiritual yearnings, a combination registered in the psychedelic effects and gleaming guitars of the instrumental ‘Siddhartha’. The mellowed-out invitation of ‘Stay’ builds to a crescendo forcefully, while ‘Lay Cursed’ makes expansive work of the album’s longings, climaxing with another reference to Siddhartha in all its intimations of spiritual self-discovery. Darkening currents coarse through ‘It’s Not Gonna Be Alright’ and the instrumental title-track, before the apocalyptic lullaby ‘This Is How Your Love Destroys Me” reaches out for hope in times of struggle. “I feel we’re all doomed,” coos Taylor, adding: “Don’t say there’s nothing we can do. There’s nothing we can’t do…”
For the duo, a belief in “songs of peace and protest” – ‘The Sound of Silence’, ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’”, “Give Peace a Chance”, “Imagine” – inspired their pursuit of “signs of light amidst depression and darkness”. Dark Matter Dreams channels that quest into songs reflective of struggles personal and political, specific and universal. The last lines Taylor wrote for the album were “I want some peace now, give me some peace now, let’s be the peace now” (on ‘Innisfree’), back in 2016: a time when, the band note, “we were finishing the record on the side of a mountain in rural Colorado, and the political and social climate in America and the world felt completely absurd and like a demented alternate reality”.
Other life experiences tested and intensified their resolve. “We were robbed twice on our first tour. Then we moved home to start what would be a failed first attempt at making the record with the wrong team (losing over half our budget), and between our own personal relationships (dissolving and blossoming), deaths in the family, or quitting our part-time jobs and living quite modestly on the road, these are some of the things we went through that prolonged the making of Dark Matter Dreams … The only constants we had were our dreams of seeing the project through and the support of friends and families.”
Instrumental figures included an array of guests, there to flesh out the album’s lustrous soundscapes on synths, strings, pedal-steel guitar and more. Their number included drummer and co-producer Mckenzie Smith, whose band Midlake stand tall among Field Division’s modern influences (see also Fleet Foxes, Father John Misty, Slowdive and Radiohead) and in whose Denton, Texas, studio Taylor and Frampton began re-recording the album.
The result is the culmination of a bond between Taylor and Frampton that stretches back to 2011. While Taylor had been working as a photographer in Des Moines, Frampton’s background included years spent touring in hardcore bands before formal music studies helped channel his energies into songwriting & producing. Field Division as a concept began in 2010, as Taylor sought an outlet for her songs and art. Relocated to Nashville, she began collaborating with Frampton in 2013, when the duo discovered shared passions and aesthetic instincts.
As they navigate the shadows within and without, the duo’s chemistry lights the way forward on Dark Matter Dreams. As they say, “Our mission statement is basically where our band name comes from: to transcend, to be or go beyond the range or limits, whether it’s the darkness of our own minds or society.” Dark Matter Dreams is the sound of Field Division nurturing that timeless yearning into gutsy, glorious, in-the-moment life, hearts pulsing at the promise of the road ahead.
~ Kevin Harley