“We weren’t working toward a specific goal or deadline. We weren’t trying to make anyone happy. We weren’t trying to shoehorn a song or vibe into an album that asks for it. We made ships in bottles, one at a time, until that one was done. A few bottles broke. But when I took stock of these things, I realized we had a pile of them. And while we made them as worlds unto themselves, it became clear that they were of a piece, of a moment. I didn’t think we were making a record, but we did.”

That’s Christopher Porterfield talking about his latest Field Report album, Brake Light Red Tide. There are an awful lot of “weren’t”s in his statement. But if Porterfield and company weren’t setting out to make a masterpiece, they failed. Brake Light Red Tide is a Field Report record like no other, an album that revels in the familiar yet embraces the unexpected, an album that pulls you in close only to set you adrift. It’s both an expansion and a contraction for Porterfield’s long-running project. Deliberate or not, it’s his best work yet.

“We’ve been falling behind every day for weeks.” So begins opening track “Peoria,” a song surely written before everyday life was put on hold, but which still nails the world’s current sense of unmoored helplessness. “It’s been getting darker and the clouds are forming,” Porterfield sings. Happily, there’s a light on the other side: the song’s jaw-dropping chorus, assisted by singer Caley Conway, zigs where it should zag, opening up and, indeed, parting like clouds after a storm. It’s a hell of an opener.

Conway’s backing vocals aren’t the only additions to Field Report’s sonic repertoire. Tinkling pianos, smokey saxophone stabs, and electronic blips and bloops bubble up throughout Brake Light Red Tide. “Breathe” mines a jazzy vibe, “Puget Sound” adds a wash of pedal steel (the nearly four-minute “Whulge” is nothing but a wash of sound), and closer “Begin To Begin” sounds like it’s set to a heartbeat monitor. Produced by Porterfield and Daniel Holter, the record is a complete 180 from 2018’s deliberately radio-friendly Summertime Songs. Here, Field Report returns to a more intimate and acoustic sound that fans of the project’s 2012 self-titled debut will surely welcome. There’s a real sense of intimacy; on the partially home-recorded “Push Us Into Love,” for example, Porterfield’s ASMR-esque vocals sound like they’re coming from directly inside your head.

As always, Porterfield’s songwriting gifts shine through in his expertly rendered words. Lyrics like “I couldn’t find the keys and panic flapped its wings” abound, as do dream images of funerals “for one of our dream-friends’ folks.” The full lyrics to “Begin To Begin”—a song about depression, sobriety, and domestic life—are so strong that they deserve to be run in full. So here they are:

the places that I’ve been and may never see again:
I won’t say haunted, but I get visited
It follows me around, wherever I go
So all things being equal, lately I just stay at home
and listen to the refrigerator hum
and quietly hum along
and wait for it to come

begin to begin to begin to begin

I swear, dog knows it first– I can see it in her eyes
when she seeks me out, checks in, curls up and and resigns
It’s like she heard music from the other room
that she recognized–
some theme song from a rerun on the air all the time
She don’t like it, she don’t hate it, she just knows that it’s on
and that means there won’t be conversation until the show is done
that’s when I zone out and disappear and it has begun
my darkness comes in darkness and it stays til it is done

begin to begin to begin to begin

blinding light
trip and fall
I’m a bat trapped in the house
clicking for the walls
cause I don’t cry out no more–
I just tiptoe down the hall
baby, keep on sleeping

I get out the house and it’s just before last call
caramel brown bottles, Packers shit is on the wall
suck it down, check the clock, beg another round
bartender says, “your idea of fun always feels like a breakdown”

text my therapist two four six am
“hey it’s chris it’s been a while it’s happening again
I’ll take the first hour you can get me in”
begin to begin to begin to begin

“This collection feels to me like the strongest thing I’ve done,” says Porterfield of Brake Light Red Tide. “The writing is leaner, the production is consonant with the narrative, the arrangements are slightly left of center. But the restlessness in spirit, the looking for love and grappling of worthiness thereof, the old ghosts, the honest struggle and glimmer of hope—the stories I traffic in that makes Field Report your thing or very much not your thing—it’s in this collection in ways I’ve been aiming at all along.”

If Field Report is your thing, you’re in for a treat. If Field Report is very much not your thing, you may be in for a change of heart—whether you planned for it or not.

About The Author

Co-Founder and Editor

Matt Wild weighs between 140 and 145 pounds. He lives on Milwaukee's east side.

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