Field Mouse is a dream pop band with minor shoegaze leanings, but it doesn’t embrace effects pedals enough to warrant unabashed My Bloody Valentine associations. That influence is probably there under the surface, but Hold Still Life favors simpler indie rock structures and clearer melodies. Field Mouse—a Brooklyn ensemble led by chief songwriters Rachel Browne and Andrew Futral—turned out an adequate debut full-length that is carefully executed, but one that is at times too withdrawn to be remembered.
Hold Still Life is so controlled that it’s rather impersonal. Frontwoman Rachel Browne sticks to a comfortable range, vocally, and she’s very reserved. Her lessened presence fits the band’s sonic palette most of the time, but it is lacking elsewhere. The minimalist “Kids” — which strips Field Mouse’s thicker textures down to a few repeated guitar chords and static singing — is so grounded that it registers as a drab misstep on a fairly vibrant album. It doesn’t help that the record’s final minute is a prolonged drone, which undermines the album’s finality by tacking on atmosphere that’s much more tedious than compelling. Hold Still Life does just fine without a big personality. “I know you are what you are,” sings Browne on “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” “It gets too close to what you already know.”
Browne goes on to use odd, abstract phrasings to manipulate a timeline of vague events. And on the wistful “Bright Lights,” she longs to rewind the “summer.” Lack of specificity is the takeaway here. Hold Still Life never really draws attention to its lyrics, due in part to production (handled by Browne and Futral) that instead emphasizes dreamy, swirling textures. As such, Browne’s vocals aren’t very pronounced in the mix.
The record has its fair share of synths, as well. “Two Ships” is a whirring, eerily low-key song about loneliness, and in the song’s haunting chorus, gleaming guitars complement Browne’s higher register. The lighthearted “Netsuke” includes playful, jangly chords. And “A Place You Return to in a Dream” boasts chunky, buzz-saw riffs.
Hold Still Life has plenty of squawking, Strokes-like guitar leads and groove-laden rhythms, and it isn’t all that fuzzy-sounding for dream pop. It’s an indie rock record at heart, and more along the lines of Silversun Pickups than of My Bloody Valentine. And while it has most of the pieces needed to construct a memorable record, a fixed demeanor challenges its staying power.