Review Summary: The coy nature of a sparkling prog-pop affair
It's quite fitting that Field Music's Peter Brewis and Admiral Fallow's Sarah Hayes had crossed paths for the first time during a Kate Bush tribute event. The whole affair was like an electric pulse, the moment they met they knew they would work together. Although the initial project would see Brewis producing Hayes' solo album, things got out of hand in the way that fate can't be tricked, and the project became a duo under the name You Tell Me, a deliberation which probably took them a whole afternoon to resolve, finally naming their union after what it sounds like a running joke in the studio.
This debut is not easy to describe. Too devious for straight folk pop fans or too simple for those hungry minds starving for innovation. It goes back and forth in search of a middle point, and by the time their sound starts to settle with an identity, it jumps off the window and takes refuge in the opposite building. The boiling mind of Brewis keeps Hayes folk leanings from becoming stagnant. This is something clearly exemplified in a song like "No Hurry", which splits the album in two with a semi-balladesque tone while dangerously sinking in what may be the puddle of mud in the road for their first endeavor.
Honestly, the landmark sound of Brewis is what makes You Tell Me a thing of its own. Songs like "Water Cooler", "Enough to Notice" or "Invisible Ink" have the necessary spark to fit into a parallel universe, female fronted Field Music. Furthermore, these songs have a frail scent of post-Bejar era The New Pornographers meets The B52s that makes the album shine, an aspect that could have worked better had it been the main focus. Instead, You Tell Me
's lack of ear-worm melodies makes it a very fleeting experience, save for the vocal hammering of "Get Out of the Room"; there's no escape to that one.
The production though is impeccable, outlining every interwoven instrument vividly. The duo's debut is strong in this sense, profiting from a rich sound palette that evokes a wide variety of scenarios, from the green meadows of "Springburn" to the dreamy scenes from a musical in "Jourska" and the night city drives of "Starting Point". You Tell Me makes abundant use of piano and strings while rotating flutes, acoustic guitars and double vocals, driven sometimes by syncopate beats or by more uniform tempos, constantly searching for a dock to anchor but never doing it for too long.
You Tell Me speaks through colors, like a peacock's tail through a prism, to deliver its message. It is the kind of progressive pop that struggles to take off and fly because it needs to grow wings first. Although it's a matter of time the duo finds the perfect formula, their chromatic folk pop proposal may pass by for many like a summer breeze, pleasant when it blows but forgotten when it's gone.