Lo-fi songs of brooding and self-reflection from LA-based songwriter Field Medic.
Release Date: 14th October 2022
Label: Run For Cover Records
Formats: Vinyl / Cassette / Digital
Field Medic, aka Kevin Patrick Sullivan, is an LA-based singer-songwriter who specializes in songs of honest and probing self-reflection. He’s been around for quite a while, initially as one half of the duo Westwood and Willow (the other half was his brother, Sean), then as part of Rin Tin Tiger, along with drummer Andrew Skewes-Cox and, since 2013, as a solo artist going by his present nom-de-créativité, Field Medic. He’s amassed quite a catalogue over the years – Grow Your hair… is his fifth solo album and follows his 2020 offering Floral Prince; he’s also released a string of EPs and singles.
Kevin views Grow Your Hair… as a significant step forward. His previous albums have, in the main, been self-produced bedroom efforts, but, this time, he’s taken the step of engaging a producer, Gabe Goodman, and a select band of supporting musicians – including pedal steel guitarist Nick Levine and drummer Nate Lich to flesh out his sound. But lovers of Kevin’s signature lo-fi sound need not wring their hands in despair; the production and collaborative enhancements do provide a counterpoint to Kevin’s guitars and vocals, but none of the intimacy or, indeed, the home-made quality has been lost along the way.
Grow Your Hair… has already been described as Kevin’s “…most ambitious, fully formed and emotionally resonant collection of tracks yet,” and also as “his most heartfelt and brooding offering yet” and those words: “emotional resonance” and “heartfelt and brooding” provide the most accurate description that I can think of for what’s on offer here. Grow Your Hair… is not an album that will appeal to the confident, career-driven go-getter who never has time to consider his or her own insecurities but, for the 90% of us that don’t fall into that category, there are sentiments expressed here that will surely resonate. It isn’t comfortable listening – the lyrics are bleak and despairing – but it’s rewarding, and the tunes are often bright and upbeat. Altogether, Grow Your Hair… is a strangely alluring package.
The bleak nature of the lyrics is evident right from the start of opening track Always Emptiness, and the opening couplet: “I wanna fall off the face of the Earth/ And probably die” leaves the listener in no doubt about what to expect. But – talk about a wolf in sheep’s clothing – the whole broody affair is delivered as an almost jaunty country waltz, illuminated by some wonderful pedal steel from Nick – and that’s a pattern that recurs over and over throughout the album.
The lo-fi “bedroom” feeling is, perhaps most evident on Weekends; the production is so unintrusive that it feels like you’re receiving a personal performance of the song. And, once again, the introspective lyrics – this time they’re an expression of the loneliness of spending a weekend alone – are wrapped in a bright country-flavoured tune that invites the listener to sing along. Lead single, I Had a Dream That You Died, has a jangly indie feel. It’s packed with what just about avoids being too many words, and the stream-of-consciousness lyrics touch on sentiments that most of us have experienced at some time or another.
Within the self-imposed constraints of Kevin’s chosen format, there’s room for an impressive variation of styles and themes on Grow Your Hair… for instance, if Bob Dylan was ever to set himself up as a one-man-band, he’d probably sound a little like the instantly-likeable Noonday Sun. And, with lyrics like: “I think about you often/ When I close my Eyes/ You tumble like an acrobat/ Through my dreams at night,” the bright, upbeat I Think About You All the Time is a surprisingly tender ode to an absent loved one.
But, really, it’s brutal introspection that provides the basic fare on this album and that’s a theme that returns in earnest in the folky House Arrest. Kevin’s double-guitar backing is sublime, whilst the song’s chorus: “But one day there will come a morning/ When you wake up from this bad dream/ Grow your hair long if you’re wanting/ To see something that you can change” starts to put the album’s lengthy title into some sort of context – although I’m still not certain whether Kevin is inferring that the length of your hair is the only thing that you can really control, or whether, by growing your hair you can change your perception of the world. Maybe he means both…
The current single, the spacy Stained Glass is, perhaps the most self-reflective song on an album that’s packed with such things and, whilst the countrified Miracle/ Marigold is slightly more upbeat, lyrics like “You know that it’s bad/ When you don’t really believe in God/ But every night you close your eyes and pray” continue to promote the dominant themes of insecurity and absence of self-belief. And, once again, Nick’s pedal steel is marvelous.
Perhaps the biggest surprise on the album is closing track I Had my Fun/ Back to the Start. Gabe’s production style take takes a sharp left turn, away from the default lo-fi standard, to embrace a band sound that is almost rich and, the biggest surprise of all, laden with strings. The lyrics, though, are another story… They’re probably the most disturbing on the album – “I lost my passion and my looks/ My stomach’s turning like a brook/ I told my best friend I wanted to buy a gun…” are a sample – and they’ll surely hit home with anyone who has experienced or has had to deal with any form of mental instability.
Not for everyone, but Grow Your Hair Long If You’re Wanting to See Something That You Can Change is an enlightening, thought-provoking and alluring album from a highly talented, articulate songwriter.
Watch the official video to I Had a Dream That You Died – the album’s lead single – here: