October 05, 2003

Sense Field "Living Outside"

Ever since I've turned thirty, I've had debates with myself, trying to figure out what has caused my musical tastes to have changed. Why have I suddenly become a bit more refined in the things that I want? Why do I expect melody and lyrical quality to override things such as this thing we call 'hipness,' and why do I find myself caring less and less about bands that I'm told I should care something about? Since I've now past the age of marketability in indie-rock land (and, yes, such a thing does exist, in a BIG way; deny it and I'll unapologetically call you a liar and a fool), I find myself not wasting my time apologizing for why I like something that might not strike the fancy of the happless citizens that reside in the mythological (and ultimately unimportant) indie-rock land. I have much better things to do than spending time trying to explain to someone why they should 'get it' about a band.

"With age comes wisdom," they say. Well, they're right, but I'd also like to add to that "an expectation of quality." I mean, come on, why should I listen to a group of kids poorly banging out Ramones covers when they've spent more time on their hair and their attire than they have on actually writing a song? Don't get me wrong; there's something to be said about the charm in the sincerity of the amateur, but, mind you--it's just a charm; it's not real talent. Not yet, at least. I'd like to think that you, dear reader, trust my opinion--even if just barely--and can understand that I'm not gonna pull a "let's tell them about something obscuro and horrible and proclaim it's good and if they don't like it then they don't get it" game on you--I love you all too much to do that to you.

It is with this in mind that I was listening to Living Outside, the new album by Sense Field. On a certain level, I really feel embarassed for Sense Field. These guys are my age, if not a little older; they've been a band since 1990, and have gone through some major struggles in their career. I applaud them for perseverence; they've made some really great records, and their song "Beautiful Beautiful" is one of my favorite love songs from the 1990s. Jon Bunch has matured quite nicely as a songwriter, and I've really enjoyed the songwriting on Living Outside.

It's too bad, though, that Sense Field aren't acting their age.

You would think that these guys--who have been around for almost as long as their audience--could come up with a sound that's innovative, interesting and, well...original. For years, these guys were hailed as being a great emo band with a pretty good punk attitude, too (They were on Revelation back in the day--that used to mean something.) Instead, it's 2003, and it doesn't sound like they've been around for thirteen years. Of course, they're not 'selling out', because they're doing what they want to do--but, at the same time, they're selling into that whole 'emo'/modern rock sound that's popular now. Still, I can't complain about their sound; it's better now than it was five years ago.

Don't think for a minute that the band's not aware of this, either. Listening to the lyrics of nearly all of these songs, it's quite obvious that they're torn by their newfound success; if you're looking on the surface, the titles of the songs certainly are telling of their new status, and what they think: "On Your Own," "You Own Me," "I Refuse," "Feel What You Want," "Take What You Want," "Memory," "Haunted"--song titles of a band that is comfortable with their new lot in life? Hardly, because it gets deeper. Almost all of the songs on this album deal with deception, personal acceptance, and..well..change. If I had more time, I'd attempt to discuss each of these songs, because there's a wealth of psychological hints and clues about how they feel about their success. To put it simply, it seems like Mr. Bunch is torn between success and his old way of life. He seems to be caught up in standing up for himself, and that the "change is a good thing" line would be more convincing IF I didn't get the feeling that Bunch doesn't really believe it himself. In fact, I'm having a hard time believing most of his reassurances, because it just doesn't seem as if he's sure of it himself.

On one hand, the 'new me' Sense Field that they sing of in "I Refuse" is an excellent band. On the other hand, at moments they don't sound like the 'old me' version of Sense Field, which is a bit of a shame, because there's nothing more disappointing than hearing a great band trading in their past for a shaky future based on their 'success'. My main beef? They sound like a band who listened to Jimmy Eat World and Texas Is The Reason and Taking Back Sunday and were instantly inspired to form a band. They certainly don't sound like a band who were around well before all of those three bands were out of high school, and it's a little bit sad to think that thirteen years of work isn't worth making a record that sounds their own. This record sounds timely, not timeless, and because of that, I doubt anyone will remember--or care--about it in two years. After all, what older teenager still listens to the generic pop records they listened to as a kid?

Nobody ever talks about the danger of getting exactly what you want.

If it didn't seem a bit too calculated, Living Outside would be one helluva record. As I can't help but feel that it's been aimed at a 'target demographic,' I'm a little reluctant to give them full credit for this record. They've been around too long to start playing the pandering to an audience game, and the sound just doesn't really sound much like Sense Field. That said, I'm happy that Sense Field are finally getting what they've always wanted and deserved--critical acclaim. I'm also really fond of the orchestration that they employ throughout Living Outside. They should have used them more, and should have focused on making more songs like that secret song at the end of "Haunted." (What can I say about a record whose best record is hidden at the end? *sigh*) Living Outside is a great sounding, radio-friendly rock record that nicely puts their past to rest. Let's just hope that they have a future once the bubble bursts and they're on their own again.

I hope so. I really do, because Living Outside is a great sounding record full of non-Sense Field-sounding songs by a band who, in their own way, defined this sound many years ago, yet will they ever get the credit for it? I seriously doubt it--and if I was in Sense Field, I don't know if I'd want it, either.

Welcome to adulthood.

--Joseph Kyle

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