Album Review: Field Medic – ‘Floral Prince’

Posted: by The Editor

Joining projects like Waxahatchee’s Saint Cloud and Laura Jane Grace’s Stay Alive, Field Medic’s Floral Prince is a new addition to what seems like a trend of excellent, rootsy folk records revolving around sobriety being released this year. For this album, Field Medic frontman Kevin Patrick Sullivan also used this as an opportunity to revisit songs he’s written over the years, selecting tunes that dip into different parts of his psyche and journey as a musician and songwriter.

Noticeably absent from a number of songs is the boombox that usually accompanies Sullivan’s adept guitar playing on Field Medic’s previous releases. The lack of it places more focus on Sullivan’s effortlessly strong vocal delivery and acoustic guitar strumming. Songs like “i will not mourn who i was that has gone away” take on a more urgent and immediate feel without the backing track, as Sullivan is letting out a torrent of thoughts too pressing to clutter with any additional instruments or sounds.

The thoughts he expresses on the record are despairingly sad at certain times, absurdly funny at others. But more often than not, Sullivan hits on the repetitive and thus, unremarkable aspects of life. This leads listeners to ruminate on how abstaining from substance use can cause – for lack of better word – boredom. Once you’ve made the decision to embark on your road to sobriety, there comes the question of: how do you fill the time that would be otherwise spent in a chemical-induced haze? This confrontation of the mundane is reflected in the lines “how do you perceive the morning sun? / after endless days of dull repetition / are you reaching out or are you reaching through? / are you a ghost in an empty room?”

One of Sullivan’s strengths has always been his ability to use traditional guitar patterns—folk-picking, the rag of “talkin johnny & june (your arms around me)”— but avoid the pitfall of sounding like a throwback act in 1800s cosplay. On Floral Prince, he sounds better than ever as he dips in and out of different guitar attacks and styles. “It’s so lonely being sober” stands out because of its lo-fi sound, creating the feeling that you’re listening to Sullivan pluck the strings alone in his apartment at 2 a.m. 

Sullivan recently tweeted that with the exception of “HEADCASE,” every track on the album was recorded live. This decision pays off fantastically, as it placed a spotlight on his guitar-playing, which served as the glue that holds much of the album together in lieu of a boombox. “talkin johnny & june (your arms around me),” a duet with Pickleboy, is an excellent example of this raw dynamic, with Sullivan playing a perpetual rag with the bass strings while also doubling the melody at times on the higher strings. Again, the tune has quite a traditional structure, but manages to sound fresh and of-the-moment. It’s followed by “older now (it hurts),” a song comprised of gorgeous finger-picking under blunt lyrics like “swore to avoid the mirror / cuz one look can wreck my day.

 “HEADCASE” stands out as the album centerpiece. It’s the tune with the most noticeable boombox presence, keeping time under Sullivan’s steady strumming as well as some live percussion and a harmonica. It’s quintessential Field Medic and one of the more upbeat and fun songs, despite the refrain of “i used to feel so pretty / now i’ve got a complex / is it supposed feel lucky / when they say i’m just a headcase?” 

I hate to use the word “clarity” to describe an artist’s album about sobriety, or “cohesive” about a group of songs plucked from an artist’s past – but those clichés really do apply here. This collection of heretofore unreleased songs feels like a turning point for Sullivan. The previous Field Medic records are great, but there’s something about stripping away anything unnecessary – both musically and chemically – that puts Floral Prince on a different level of this prolific artist’s catalog.

 Disappointing / Average/ Good / Great / Phenomenal

Aaron Eisenreich | @slobboyreject

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