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Paul Smith and Peter Brewis – 'Frozen By Sight' review

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Frozen By Sight originated from a commission for the 2013 Festival of the North East, in which Paul Smith from Maximo Park and Field Music’s Peter Brewis set some of the former’s travelogues to music. And while the album is attributed simply to those two, it’s pleasingly greater than the sum of its collaborators: intrigue comes from both musicians operating at a knight’s move from their usual habitat and, refreshingly, neither one kowtowing to the constraint of their parent band.

Accordingly, occasional flickers of the yearning romanticism that characterises Maximo Park’s lyrics are in evidence, but on the whole Smith prefers to offer up artfully detached polaroids of everyday throwaway scenes and derive poignancy from the distance rather than the intensity of the narrator. Equally, Peter Brewis’ evocative instrumentation is recognisably his, but with the Field Music spikes sanded off: rich, stately string quartets alternate between stoic sadness and playful smirk, depending on the nature of Smiths’ character studies, and the results often glide closer to the classically abstract than anything more pop.

Not quite songwriting, soundtrack or improvisation, Frozen By Sight is a wonderful curiosity shop of a record that balances quirk, sincerity and freshness with great poise, and sounds exactly how the product of people-watching the world over should: idiosyncratic, emotionally invigorating and pleasingly set apart from the pack.