"a propulsive but ponderous 10-track wonder that hits all of the pleasure centers—that is, you will dance and sing”
Today, Grayson Currin reviewed Leverage Models’ debut LP for Pitchfork. Between the lines of Shannon Fields’ new music is the longstanding world from which it springs. We’ve been dancing to that song for years – and the beat’s picking up. We’re thankful for this piece of writing and its gift of context. Here it is in its entirety. Find your copy of Leverage Models today.
Shannon Fields didn’t disappear so much as escape: In 2007, his band of nearly a decade, a large and quixotic collective of sound benders named Stars Like Fleas, released its third album, The Ken Burns Effect. The record, like its predecessors, was a tremendous tangle of possibilities. The tender coos of folk songs abutted generous passages of abstruse misdirection, putting Stars Like Fleas not among the moment’s freak-folk horde but in a more rarified and truly exploratory realm. The Ken Burns Effect demanded a next step, new music that took any number of Stars Like Fleas’ dozens of implied influences in more definitive directions. “I’m pretty good at making myself uncomfortable,” Fields had said in an interview while the record was being made, “and am always trying to make the people around me uncomfortable.” Yet you wanted Stars Like Fleas to get a little bit comfortable, to settle in and let the inchoate nature of its music solidify just a tad.
But that never happened. Stars Like Fleas imploded just before finishing its next album, and its components have since scattered in enough directions to give new credence to the band name. Fields headed north to a small farm near Cooperstown, N.Y., to take a break from New York City and to try and build something of his own. After two years of digital EPs, singles, covers and compilation contributions, Fields has finally emerged with the self-titled debut LP Leverage Models, a solo endeavor fortified by a dozen friends and a dance record that might pad some expectations of that phrase. Though Stars Like Fleas never had its chance to settle, Fields did. The result is a propulsive but ponderous 10-track wonder that hits all of the pleasure centers—that is, you will dance and sing—while offering a supple-enough sound to become something of a headphone symphony, not unlike the more recent works of Matthew Dear. Leverage Models, then, makes a mostly clean break with Fields’ past but, yet again, extends an enticing arrow toward his future.
These concise and swift songs key on heaps of synthesizers, electronic drums and manipulated vocals woven into crisscrossing patterns. Consider his breathless lead vocals during the anxious “Night Falls on the General Assembly” or his italicized verses during lead single “Cooperative Extensions”: Fields is clearly the star here. But Leverage Models is more generous than a solo production made in the bedroom of an isolated farmhouse. Slap-bass bubbles from the cracks beneath verses and choruses of that first track. A saxophone squiggles out of the bridge during “The Chance to Go.” Sharon Van Etten provides the unleavened, plaintive voice onto the tragic hero for “Sweep”. Indeed, though this is Fields’ project and his harbor, the massed-ensemble approach of Stars Like Fleas remains; more than a dozen musicians contributed to Leverage Models, from Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn to classical violinist Jim Altieri.
Such an esteemed cast gives Fields a wide sonic palette, allowing him to fill these instant hits with all manner of layers and textures and twists. The irrepressible “Hunting Safety”, for instance, swells and stops and starts again, shifting from nervy arpeggios and skittering rhythms to a wide-open, full-throated sing-along. It eventually grinds into the same noisy futuristic funk that shapes the best parts of Gayngs’ Relayted, an album that shares stylistic precedents with this one. In less than four minutes, “Out in the Open (Propositional Representations)” changes countenances a half-dozen times; one section that recalls the sprawl of Neu! abuts a span of seductive Prince-like winks. You could spend a month mapping the parts written into these three-minute tunes and still find something new on the next listen, such as the piano that traces the melody 90 seconds into “Cooperative Extensions” like a set of phantom steel drums. This is vivid and immediate music, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be intricate.
Though Leverage Models borrows the old band’s personnel approach in execution, the record’s development seems to have sat mostly with Fields. These songs seem too focused to be formed by committee, too swift and steady to be anything but bursts of ideas later repaved by a bigger band. “Night Falls on the General Assembly” is all momentum and memory, while the lifting keyboard chords and sleigh-bell jangle of “The Least of Your Brothers” is a product of pure pop concentration. Stars Like Fleas’ music was rife with references and influences, and so are these tracks. From Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and David Byrne to Gary Numan and Bill Laswell, you can hear the giants of Fields’ record collection, hopefully nodding along to his own beats. You can hear the influence of his peers and friends, too, labelmates and tourmates such as Bear in Heaven and Helado Negro. But Fields starts from these touchstones now and moves forward rather than simply folding them into his own music. That new intimacy radiates in Fields’ lyrics, too. Careful reflections on private pain, from domestic abuse and political apathy, his words reflect much the same arrival as this music, even if they do so in grays and blacks that run counter to these neon synthesizers.
During the last few years, Fields has participated in a number of experimental ensembles. To some extent, Stars Like Fleas was one, but he’s also played in Rhys Chatham’s massed guitar pieces and with Duane Pitre, a composer whose remarkably approachable work hinges on just intonation and computer-generated chance. You won’t necessarily leave equal temperament or notice aleatoric sound design during Leverage Models. But if you listen to these songs again and again, you will hear a systemically restless musician returning to the core he loves. But he does it the favor of fucking it up, of reworking every rubbery groove and feathery melody until they become something that’s at once familiar and foreign.