Ever since Magic Wand was released on K in 2004, the music Kyle Field has released under his Little Wings moniker has taken on a slow aimlessness. Reflective of his assumed and somewhat publicized lifestyle, his songs seem to be intent on lulling the listener into a relaxed, stress-free transient state. The songs, themselves drifting along, maintain a distant, fleeting quality even when listened to closely. Whether such a carefree lifestyle exists in reality or only in his mind (as the Microphones/Little Wings documentary Wise Old Little Boy suggests), we can easily imagine a group of Pacific northwestern bearded drifters performing these songs from scratch, and with genuineness.
The down side to being able to capture such an elusive sound and lifestyle is that Field has strayed little lately from slow, soft acoustics. Perhaps one needs some tension from time to time. The experimental sonic sounds and playfulness that accompanied early Little Wings (see Discover Worlds of Wonder and Wonderue) and helped to make Field visible in a pre-resurgent-folk era have drifted away themselves to leave an often redundant soft calmness that too easily becomes background music (which is perfectly fine if used as a sleep aid).
So, when an energetic clip of Field’s new collective, Be Gulls, performing at the 2007 Anacortes, Washington What the Heck Fest appeared on the World Wide Web, it seemed for a brief moment that Field may be branching out and waking up. The other Be Gulls are Lee Baggett, who sounds like a mix of Dylan and Young; surfboard maker Keith Boller; and Brian Malloy and Dave Matthies of the Gift Machine. Unfortunately, the lively rendition of “Seasons” contained in that video clip, with Lee Baggett singing and Yacht’s Jona Bechtolt on drums, is just that: a livelier rendition of the stripped-down version contained on the Be Gulls debut By the Beach.
The remainder of the seven-song album is reminiscent of the most recent Little Wings release, last year’s Soft Pow’r. It is a slice of improvised ocean-breeze mellowness with slow melodies and stream-of-consciousness lyrics. While slim, the influences of those other than Field is not entirely missing. “Whisperskits” benefits from a light-hearted vibe throughout that picks up enough to actually find a groove. “Hello?” is a comedic soundscape of what it may be like to hang out with the Be Gulls in Anacortes among the other drifters. Baggett’s “Seasons” stands out as a song of a troubadour rather than a talented drifter. Meaning, I suppose, that Field should have handed over the singing duties more often. Baggett’s voice has purpose, while Fields’s is still searching and wandering, a sound that tends to get old.
Regardless, By the Beach is I hope the beginning of livelier collaboration for Field. In reality, there is not much of a difference between it and a Little Wings album. Field is still the one constant among an array of other musicians. He stretches out a bit, but the Be Gulls drift closely alongside Little Wings, making a delicate, at times beautiful and pleasant album that can lull us to sleep.