Cold wars come in a few sizes, but the warm wars -- the ones that burn and give off a fair amount of long stares and result in exasperation and quivering faces — are the ones that Christopher Porterfield of Field Report worries about on the Milwaukee, Wisconsin band’s third album, Summertime Songs. They’re suntanned and wind-swept. They’ve been crying and they’ve been drinking. These warm wars are the result of chaffing, of friction and boredom. They’re caused by everything and nothing at all, just guys deciding to act on a foggy and cowardly, oftentimes mistaken heart’s behalf. Some people give up and some people are given up on.
This is an album comprised of songs that are exactly what you think they might be if you’d assumed they would consist of all the nuance and cold shouldering, all of the behind closed doors dramatics and silences and all of the clusterf**kery that two people who used to love each other so madly all too often get to producing. There are no swimming pools and there’s no lemonade. There’s not even any sunblock, just the rawest of burns. There are no country club couples or tee times to deal with, but rather the kinds of nobodies we ourselves are and are surrounded by and we have to figure out how the work’s gonna get done, how we’re going to keep our clothes on, how we’re going to get someone to want to randomly take our clothes off or what can be said to put all of the pieces back together so that some form of happiness can return home.
The difference between Summertime Songs — recorded at Wire & Vice, in the same Milwaukee neighborhood where 3/4ths of the band resides — and 2014’s brilliantly autumnal feeling Marigolden and 2012’s more chilly and intense self-titled record is that we hear Porterfield at his most honed and pure. He’s more direct and effective with his writing, and in doing so, the scene is even more expertly set. It’s sharper and more captivating. The character sketches that he creates with these mostly toasty and soaring hooks gluing them together are robust and stark like a Hemingway line, but with that keen eye for all of the subtle details that always made up the sad couples in Raymond Carver’s stories.
Every song for this album was written before the 2016 presidential election, all while Porterfield was anxious about the arrival of he and his wife’s first child, but it’s easy to multi-purpose some of those anxious moments for the white-knuckler that the country’s been experiencing for over a year now. He plies us with songs about marital strife and letting that someone slip away (or watching them voluntarily pack up everything they have and get the hell out), but they’re also vehicles for a dialogue about the fragility of America and many of the ideals that it has supposedly stood or fought for for so long.