A change of production style leads to a more sophisticated setting for Field Medic’s angst-laden songs.
Field Medic is the stage name of Kevin Patrick Sullivan, a folk singer/songwriter from San Francisco (now based in LA) who has produced a series of albums and EPs since his debut in 2013, mostly with just a guitar (with occasional embellishment (drum loops and occasional horns) and harmony vocals and mostly self-produced). He writes with blistering honesty about sadness, despair, anger, desperation, self-loathing and everything in between, with flashes of humour, using his high-pitched voice to accentuate his emotions and sounding in part not unlike early Bob Dylan. His language can be very explicit when writing about suicide, drink, drugs, mental health or sex, all subjects which pepper his songs.
This album ‘grow your hair long..’ is a much fuller-sounding album, which has been professionally produced by multi-instrumentalist Gabe Goodman, with a little help from steel, drums and occasional strings and adds space and variety to the songs. Interestingly the songs on this more polished album have less humour in them than earlier in his career and are somewhat darker in tone. This must have been a cathartic exercise as Sullivan admits to finding his songwriting mojo again and coming out of the process in a happier frame of mind. The album kicks off with the doom-laden ‘always emptiness’ – “I wanna fall off the face of the earth & probably die I tried laughing it off but I’m gonna cry”, setting the general tone, but with lovely steel guitar in the background. ‘Weekend is a livelier tune but the sentiment remains the same – “when your spirit’s broke you can’t even buy a spark & weekends are the hardest part”. ‘I had a dream that you died’ is in similar vein – “ & then I got to thinking how recently a lot I ponder suicide but I could never do that to my mom”.
You get the picture, and yet, notwithstanding the tone, the album never seems maudlin. There are some nice instrumental touches (the jaunty harmonica in ‘noonday sun’ for example and some plaintiff keyboard flavourings) and some catchy chorus lines – eg‘ I think about you all the time’ allegedly about Sullivan’s battle with the bottle, and ‘House arrest’ which evidences signs of an optimistic outcome “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” The closing track ‘I had my fun/back to the start’ is the prettiest tune and has some lovely string sounds sweeping across the background, but the tone is relentlessly despairing “I had my fun til my fun turned in to humiliation and a suicide scare I try to lead with love but I hurt everyone who gets close enough to show me that they care” It is perhaps by bringing out these darkest moments in a new found recording environment has helped him to exorcise his ghosts and experience a musical catharsis that will allow him to produce music lighter in tone going forward. After all, Aristotle suggested the idea of catharsis: that by overwhelming us with an undesirable emotion, music somehow purges us of it. Field Medic is a burgeoning talent with plenty to say and this album is hopefully a step towards a less troubled psyche. It is a fine effort and the songs will certainly resonate with many people.