The Field: Looping State Of Mind
Published: October 12, 2011
Looping State of Mind
Circa 2007, on the heels of his breakout masterpiece From Here We Go Sublime, the Field’s Axel Willner seemed to be on a unique precipice within electronic dance music. The too-brief moment of minimal techno—that cerebral, ultrarefined subgenre that made high art of sonic restraint—was coming to some kind of head, breaking through to the world of indie and its waiting legions of in-the-know hipsterati, by definition a kind of cultural zone that can send something onward to the broader NPR-mediated listening world and maybe even past. The Field seemed to be one to carry that flag—Willner would either cross over in a fairly unprecedented way, or he’d wind up the climax of one of electronic dance music’s very best moments.
Minimal never really went away; it seems more like it just moved back within dance culture, which has its own, perhaps more apt, or at least more contextual nomenclature (ambient techno, tech-house, etc). Willner followed up Sublime with a perfectly serviceable full-length and some nonalbum cuts ranging from serviceable to gold, but dude wasn’t Justice or Skream. Which brings us to now, where, boy howdy, is there ever crossover and thank god it happened to dubstep and not minimal. If a record ever seemed like it was laughing at the sudden arrival of super-mainstream electronic dance music, it might be this. And it might be nearly perfect.
Opener “Is This Power?” is the most peculiar variety of sublime, a single-note synth drone, detuned radically at the end of each phrase/loop over a beat that starts in a strange off-kilter tease before loping forward; in the background another synth—or maybe some weirdly patched version of the first—wahhhhs in and around. In a way, it’s minimal techno as Michael Rother predicted it in 1977 with “Feuerland,” a meeting of cool motorik and warm psych. By the third track, “Burned Out,” the palette expands enough to sound almost like Matthew Dear-as-pop-songwriter filtered through Matthew Dear-as-Audion (Dear’s equally sexy full-on techno persona) filtered through Panda Bear. About halfway through, Willner goes all out with a pair of gorgeous 10-plus-minute songs that just beg you to get lost inside them. And by the time the record winds down, he’s ditched techno almost entirely for smooth and lovely sound/beatscapes, gauzy free-form explorations nodding to present-day bedroom pop. If Willner doesn’t get minimal back into the indie conversation, at the very least he could take on chillwave.
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