Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Field - Cupid's Head

 

Some electronic producers try to impress on first attempt with a bang; others decide to sink their listener in and hit them with material more subtle and visceral in nature. Others however play it differently, and succeed in finding a nestled middle-ground. It took no more than twenty seconds into the first track to Axel Willner's debut as The Field - 2007's From Here We Go Sublime - for me to first enjoy the sounds offered, and second (more importantly) understand why I experienced such positive reactions thereafter. Willner's approach to techno is steady and patient, and the results over the preceding three albums have been one of immediacy, but in the long-run pay its listener a sizeable reward for allowing one's self to sink into the Swede's concoction of atmosphere, rhythm and layering. Each one of The Field's records have focused differently on one of these components, but in each case, the output is never sacrificial of the remaining two. While Willner's structural methods have hardly changed, the subtleness and attention to detail is what sets each album apart: from his debut's crisp dexterity of beats and electronics, to Yesterday & Today's evolution of atmosphere and aesthetic, straight into Looping State of Mind's empowering romp of instrumental experimentation on both a dynamic as well as a productive level. 

2013's Cupid's Head shows no sign of bucking that trend, and much like the drastic shift in palette to its cover sleeve, The Field's music takes on a slightly more earthly flavour, without sinking too far beyond a subterranean suggestion. Instead, Cupid's Head is more suggestive; more sensual and visually-provoking. It leads its flotilla of awe-inspiring effects, mid-tempo pacing and electronic components past the listener's field of view - inviting us in and offering as much a liberty of imagination as it does set out to suggest a particular set of sensual catalysts at a near sub-atomic level. As They Won't See Me showcases straight from the off, the vibrant shine of guitar already envelop the listener into what swiftly turns towards this low-grounded tread across a plain that feels never-ending but not necessarily impossible to challenge. The somewhat unshackled combination of sub-bass beats and these whirling synthesizers of both high and low tone, definitely allude to a distant, escapist vibe yet the complacency in its rhythm and more-so its sonic ambience - especially where the vocals and tension of tone are added to the mix later on - prevents the track from simply lauding in a downtempo mind-set. 

Yet despite the sleek graze of shine and ascending tone The Field projects, the greater thing about these sounds is that Willner still manages to pull his listeners in different directions - at times retracting us from the former glow of synthesizers onto a path far less escapist and a lot more contained and thus, enclosed. Black Sea is one of Willner's most accomplished tracks in terms of orchestrating this change. For the first half of the track's ten-minute length, the 4/4 concoction of shuddering percussion, bass and electronic beats enact a kind of comfortable middle-ground amid The Field's warming after-effect of ambience. Things initially feel rhythmically and emotively calm. But as we pass into the final third, things turn slightly more tentative; the atmosphere is all but vanished and the rise of arpeggiated bass synths drag us closer and closer to something more slicker and viscous in texture. And more notably, considerably less escapable. Willner's treatment of vocals on this record is clearly more assentive, Cupid's Head the title track presenting its looped pattern of voices in a less solid physique yet seemingly emphasising the density of the piece with which is created by the swell of electronics and bass throughout. Admittedly, on the surface this appears to be one of Willner's least experimental (structurally speaking) efforts - choosing instead to progress rather than transgress. But as noted, the subtle changes and attention seem to be microscopic and thrive most when the listener's focus is on of diving into the piece as opposed to simply spectating it. 

In saying this, there's a slight referencing to Jon Hopkins' new album, perhaps not in a physical or developmental fashion, but more a sonic and tonal one; drawing more on the fracturing, crystalline-like detail of compositions rather than of its visible and macroscopic form. A Guided Tour feels like The Field's testing of such a method. While providing a lead of glistening synths and bobbing drum beats, it finds itself almost venturing into its own subconscious - drowning both its and our own presence in this sea of fluid textures and rich tone that's without borders and feels, again, like it stretches to infinity. Admittedly there is a risk here that The Field's equivalence to fluid electronics may wash over the effect trying hard to come across, and in doing so, I feel there's less of a voluntary immersion created from the listener. Rather, the effect feels slightly more forced upon us and in effect does't reach as much the same heights as previous tracks. But in consolation, it remains yet another countable point to give reason to The Field's particularly 'lengthier' addressing of sound; time and duration becoming merely collateral to the lush blur of the track's attempted ambient glow and inescapable awe. 

It's that awe (and indeed the ability from our end to look past the restraints of track length) that gives Willner's music its detail and further pushes the Swede's sensual and narrative elements to another level. More notably, when Willner reintroduces human components to his work - even if the addition is as simple as a repetition of a few words in the case of No. No... - comparisons are likely to be drawn to uk bass and garage respectively. There's an emotively personal presence and the soundscapes begin to trickle with slight suburban and earthly suggestion - vocals later pushed into shifts of pitch and thus suggesting more-so the territorial scope of its surroundings. Even with the cloudy trail of effects and electronics that glide amidst his music, Willner still manages to contain address an importance to the album's music, from that of a ground level. So while some may find themselves gliding amongst thee skies or even swimming about the same endless majesty of blurred visions that have culminated previously, there's the opportunity also to take these sounds from the stance and perspective of the ground - either looking up, or looking out into the vast yonder. 

20 Seconds Of Affection closes while tenatively noisy - steaming up like a vast engine room or perhaps sauna with fog-like bursts of feedback - soon orders the potentially unorderly mass of sound to the flow of a steady bass beat with what appears to be very subtle murmurs cropping up in the background. With a closing statement such as this, while it isn't as energized or as lifting as previous tracks, what Willner offers instead (likely out of contrast to the techno and ambient wizardry beforehand) much to the same vain as Fuck Buttons and what an album like Tarot Sport marvellously accomplished was a meeting of the noisy and the stable; crafting the less concise and crisp of textures into something far more rhythmically just and liberating. To expand upon that reference, there's a definite Olympians feel to the closing track; Willner continuing to loop his stormy, static textures while at the same time implementng a clearer lead of melody and harmony to a sound that in another light, may be as hostile or as unharmonious as any noise track could perhaps be.

Repetition is a hard art to master in the field of music, because like many other musical double-edged swords, the reasons for it succeeding are minor in difference to the reasons why it might fail in other given times. But coming from an artist and a producer who has worked to master this method over the past six years, Cupid's Head accomplishes something that a vast majoriy would easily best avoid, and a minor few whom would dare to approach let alone accomplish. The Field is living proof amid the spectrum of electronic music - particularly at a time when the likes of Hopkins and co are blurring the line between house and techno (and more fractionally, the line between impression and expression) - that the simpler and less complexly arranged scores at immersing one's listener, can not only work, but too excell beyond the conventions of sound. Axel Willner's forth record under the name, in conclusion, is his most realized and detailed to date. An album, by the end, that stands as one of 2013's most flourished of records with tone, shape and the ease of which to morph them from one encapsulating form to the next.
~Jordan Helm

8.5

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