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Album Review

Given that the Field Mice never seemed to stop writing and recording songs, combined with the fact that Sarah was admittedly a small label (however embraced by a passionate fan base), it's little surprise that demand swiftly built for some sort of compilation of all the band's many singles and EPs. The result was 1991's Coastal which, though long since superseded by the Where'd You Learn to Kiss That Way? collection, is still an unrestrained joy. These tunes were meant to be heard either individually or in the context of only a couple of other tracks, and when put all together make for a varied, endlessly listenable experience. Starting with the easy chime and sparkle of "September's Not So Far Away," one of their best individual moments, Coastal touches on everything from low-key jangle pop (presumed to be the band's stock-in-trade) to various excursions — sometimes with varying degrees of seriousness — into other musical styles. There's late-night cocktail jazz on "The Last Letter," the dance grooves of "It Isn't Forever," and much more. Wratten's vocals give the band most of its reputation for sheer preciousness; never giving in to any temptation to beg, shout, or scream, his singing is calm and reflective but never distanced. Emotionally speaking, there's often a near-apocalypse unfolding in the lyrics, but his delivery avoids diffidence for straightforward, tender regret and wishing for something else. That the band saw its own musical roots in groups like New Order and the Durutti Column more than any putative "cutie/shambling" scene is clear enough. Check out the attractive, quick-paced punch of "Sensitive," which could easily slot in as a Power, Corruption & Lies or Low Life album track or B-side without a problem. Hiscock's bass happily avoids cloning Peter Hook's and, as the other band members appear, they make their own pleasant additions as things progress.


Formed: 1988 in Surrey, England

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s

The flagship band of the legendary Sarah Records, the Field Mice neatly encapsulated the label's trademark wispy, lovelorn pop sound and remain among the most beloved British cult bands of their time. Debuting in 1988 with the single "Emma's House," the Field Mice were originally comprised of singer/guitarist Robert Wratten and bassist Michael Hiscock; initially dismissed in the U.K. press as little more than twee pop fluff, over the course of subsequent releases like 1989's "Sensitive" and the So...
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Coastal, The Field Mice
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