West Of The Fields
June 13, 2008
As the final song on Murmur, “West Of The Fields” revisits the core themes of the record — dreams, mythology, difficulty with communication, synesthesia — bringing the album full circle, while ending on what feels more like a set of ellipses rather than a declarative full stop. This is very appropriate to the general aesthetic of Murmur — it’s enigmatic, off-kilter, and aloof; it makes perfect sense that it’d just mumble some cryptic words and sprint off into the distance in its final moments.
In the broadest sense, “West Of The Fields” appears to be a song about the significance of the dreamscape and its connection to our understanding of the waking world and the collective unconscious. Michael Stipe describes a “dream of living jungle” as if it were a distant memory of a primal state, and that thought overlaps with a dream of the Elysian fields — the final resting place of the heroic in Greek mythology. It’s hard to tell what Stipe is implying, or if he’s really trying to make a statement at all, but there seems to be some line drawn from the notions of religion and mythology to the uncivilized, untamed nature of animals in the wild. Either scene would seem to take place in some idealized past, and the tone of the song suggests a feeling of dread, particularly when the chorus hits. (Mike Mills’ backing vocals in the call-and-response seem especially panicked in contrast with Stipe’s more defiant tone.)
Of all the songs on Murmur, “West Of The Fields” has the greatest feeling of urgency, to the point that it feels vaguely like a horror movie. This is due largely to Bill Berry’s brisk tempo, and the range of textures in Peter Buck’s uncharacteristically complicated chord progression. Amid many intriguing chords and flourishes, the most memorable bit is arguably Mills’ vaguely funky descending bass line at the end of each verse.