Music News

Sense Field

I know, I know. . . . You've already been spotted hanging around emo chat rooms, wringing your hands (mouse?) over your favorite band being dropped, and unceremoniously so, by Warner Bros. Just seeing the words Sense Field on this page is enough to make you burst out in tears. It's a hurt that cuts like a knife, deeper than the one you felt when you asked that cute cheerleader out on a date only to receive a cold stare and a curled-lip sneer for a reply. Pal, I feel your pain.

For those not in the loop: Sense Field debuted in '94 with Killed for Less, recorded for venerable punk 'n' emo maven Revelation Records. The group was quick to capitalize on its geometrically expanding fan base through relentless touring hither (several full national tours) and yon (a lengthy Euro jaunt); 1996 saw the release of sophomore effort Building, which would subsequently draw the attention of Bugs Bunny's handlers. Warner Bros. duly rereleased Building and began hatching out a marketing plan for its young charges. Sense Field enjoyed a high-profile appearance on that summer's Vans Warped Tour, then in early '97 went into the studio with producer David Holman (of No Doubt/Bush airbrush fame) to begin recording its third album.

Things began falling apart at that juncture. The record endured seemingly interminable delays for loads of reasons that, er, no doubt will come out in the press soon enough. Meanwhile, Sense Field had the good, ah, sense to resume touring during the protracted gestation period, additionally securing permission from its big-label bosses to go ahead with an indie one-off EP, last year's Part of the Deal (GrapeOs Records). By this point, the full-length had been revised so many times it was beginning to resemble an Al Gore stump speech; suffice to say that the final revision, which featured a new title and significant track listing changes, was finally put on the Warners release schedule for May 23. And then, just a few weeks ago, it was removed. Media recipients of last year's 11-song Sense Field advance CD who prematurely flogged it to the highest bidders on that auction site for arrested adolescents (eMObay) are probably kicking themselves right now; prices have skyrocketed. No less desirable is Under the Radar, which replaced its withdrawn counterpart -- dropping two songs and adding three in the process -- initially bestowing "collectors' item" status to Sense Field and now an über-desirable artifact itself.

Well, for those who give a dang. There's something subversive about Sense Field, and I don't mean a good kind of subversion. Apparently, their advisers were aiming to turn them into the next Bush, albeit a less oblique, more melody-centric version that additionally suggests a poor man's Foo Fighters. A number of the songs here have that same pharyngeal vocal timbre and crushed-foil guitar style that renders Saint Gavin so insubstantial, and others simply fall back on Dave Grohl's (by way of Saint Kurt's) light strum/heavy strum formula accompanied by soaring, anthemic vocals; both approaches seem awkward here, and neither are particularly original despite their commercial nature. Sense Field does have a sensitive side that hews truer to its emo roots, although it must be grudgingly noted that modern-day usage of the term "sensitive" runs perilously close to the old Spinal Tap "clever/stupid" tightrope act. "One More Time Around" resembles an amped-up Cranberries tune with Edge-like guitar arpeggios scaffolding it skyward: not a good sign, eh? And a cover of the Smiths' "What Difference Does It Make," which soars heavenward even as it suggests a convergence of the Church and the Connells, abruptly brings a heretofore obscured rock culture epiphany (of sorts): Morrissey is the Godfather of Emo. Now we know what all that nipple-pinching and ass-grabbing the Mozzer indulges in signifies.

Yet to be fair, there are enough hooks on the record to make it a keeper at least until time for a trip to the trade-in counter (Bon Jovi's new record is due in June). One can only presume that Warner Bros., in the nearly three years' worth of recording and planning the Sense Field project, was oblivious to the significant changes brewing in the rock marketplace. Extreme music and rap-metal and their nihilistic, misogynistic, melody-phobic mookheads now rule. Put another way, the shy lad who asked the cute cheerleader for a date in the first paragraph above nowadays would, upon rejection, first beat the bitch senseless and THEN write a song about the experience. Ain't no world for a Sense Field. So the label simply cut its losses and cut the band loose.

But why, dear readers, do I not only review a record which, for the time being, doesn't exist (and won't even generate any of the advertising revenue that helps keep this august publication a free one for you), but in such a mean-spirited style that will undoubtedly generate much angst among Sense Field's pimply fans? Like I said, I feel your pain. Sorry to add to it. One of my peers waggishly suggested that I make the music available to you, since I have in my possession one copy of the original Warners advance CD (the 11-song Sense Field, bearing the long-ago-mooted 5/5/99 issue date) and two copies of the quasi-"final" product, Under the Radar (hand-numbered as #78 and #353, if anyone at the label's anti-piracy division is interested), now destined never to come out. Hmm . . . maybe I should check the status of my eBay account.

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Fred Mills