“When I started to work on “Cupid’s Head“it was quite awkward. I felt that I had nothing to put into a new album…plus I was listening to more slow jams – ambient and drones – so it all felt a bit off kilter initially”, says Axel Willner, founding member of The Field. The projects fourth album was released in September on the Kompakt label.
The Field has been swathed in critical accolades since the debut release ‘From Here We Go Sublime’ in 2007, which sliced minute sections of well-known pop songs and stretched them out over 9 and 10 minute expanses, sluiced with percussive loops and a haze of soft techno. The result included the sublime Kate Bush inspired diorama ‘Over the Ice’.
The follow up in 2009 ‘Yesterday and Today’ adopted a more traditional approach. Unlikely punk enthusiast Willner limited the use of laptops in favour of guitars and real percussion. Sample length increased, ‘Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime’ readily identifiable, sounding more like a 12” experimental version created by The Korgi’s in a mad ‘futurist’ phase than the deft reprocessing undertaken by The Field’s cover.
2011’s ‘Looping State of Mind’ developed organic themes and reflected an ambience associated with one of Willner’s other endeavours, ‘Loops of the Heart’. Conspicuous guitar riffs journeyed with rhythms displaying tribal genetics, exemplified in the percussive glory of ‘It’s Up There’. It appeared that Willner had at last found home – The Field now a collaboration of artists concocting modernity from the traditional.
And so to the new six track, ‘Cupid’s Head’. Kompakt claim that this album is “more open than hermetic” which sounds a little odd given that Willner is back to creating and arranging alone, and the trademark cream album covers have been swapped to ‘hermetic black’. Yet, there’s a sense of self-awareness, an undercurrent of reviewing the space The Field has previously occupied, and of forging a path to the future for the benefit of both artist and listener. Perhaps in this sense we are rewarded with a more revealing self-portrait.
Album opener ‘They Won’t See Me’ starts with a reflective guitar riff that suggests a strong connection to previous albums. Thereafter it becomes apparent that this is generational baton passing rather than any attempt to set the tone for ‘Cupid’s Head’. Loops of electronica appear in greater proportion here, the latter half of ‘They Won’t See Me’ for example becoming a saturating atmosphere of shuttling percussion, opaque church organ chords and incorporeal vocals. It’s difficult to describe it as anything other than magnificent.
No.No…’ is said to have shaped this album – the micro vocal sample that grounds the track no doubt a safe haven from which to overcome artistic awkwardness. The way Willner uses voices is intriguing. He’s on record as saying he’s not particularly fond of the sound of singing, preferring to use the voice as a programmable instrument. His decision therefore to slice vocal samples to singular note length is a logical one. ‘No.No…’ typifies this approach, although having fully deconstructed the vocal, the micro is made macro as the sample is repeated and echoed to embody a sense of the choral.
Elsewhere, the potent juxtaposition of rolling ambience and pulsing minimal techno is superbly enacted by the Cain and Abel of ‘Black Sea’, which having bathed in the oceans of universal wellbeing for nearly 7 minutes, unleashes a gloriously dark, percolating bass line summoning the waves of night and the curiosities that lurk therein. In favour of techno, titular track ‘Cupid’s Head’ presents a suffocating sweat soaked rush on a half imagined dance floor, while ‘A Guided Tour’ keeps the scales balanced with a miasma of soft sunlight and revolving thoughts, lost in the embrace of the there and then, forgetful of the here and now.
Cupid’s Head is a remarkable mix of lamentation and celebration. A strange sadness exists in this body of work, but it’s a disconnected, remote sadness, an acknowledgement of the human condition rather than a sense of surrendering to it. The Field borrows from the notion of the Universe, its manifest hugeness expanding from a singularity, a dot, a virtual nothing. Applied to music, the minute samples become pre-cursors to the vast expanses of subtly beautiful sounds that emerge. Willner has returned with the intimate portrait of a man contemplating all that has gone before. The party muted, the intensity of his exploration of mortality creating a truly visceral sense of the grand. Cupid’s Head is excellent.
This review first appeared in Issue 4 of Electronic Sound, a new magazine dedicated to electronic music past and present, with a diverse mix of genres and an eye for emerging talent. Grab your copy here: http://electronicsound.co.uk/
Please note: We have posted a selection of The Field tracks from various albums. ‘They Wont See Me’ is taken from ‘Cupid’s Head’, ‘Over The Ice’ is taken from ‘From Here We Go Sublime’ and ‘It’s Up There’ from ‘Looping State of Mind’.