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White Noise: The Field – Looping State of Mind

Friday, 7 October 2011

The Field – Looping State of Mind

Label: Kompakt

Is This Power
Burned Out
Then It's White

Axel Willner’s production as The Field has always been of special interest to techno fans, and it’s not hard to see why. On his extraordinary debut album, From Here We Go Sublime, Willner burst onto the scene with a fully-formed sound; a fusion of techno loops with adopted stylings from a host of other genres, primarily house and shoegaze. Not only were his genre adoptions fluid and dazzling, he used these styles to craft a series of variations on looping themes that encompassed a phenomenal range of emotions and subjects, whether compelling (Over The Ice), playful (Paw In The Face), trippy (Mobilia), or deeply warm and nostalgic (Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime), to name a few. On his third album for the terminally on-point Kompakt imprint he continues along this set path but confidently expands his range after the slight hesitance of his sophomore album Yesterday and Today. In a world where the hypnotic art of looping is swiftly becoming more recognised and respected, Willner crafts a set of painstakingly produced and gorgeously layered techno tracks that show yet again why is he regarded as one of the best in his... well, field.

From the off Willner rises head and shoulders above the majority of his peers with stunning opener Is This Power. The track is perfectly titled as the mood shifts midway from a woozily ecstatic power trip to a moody doubt implied by the questioning resonance of the title, moving finally into an emotive fusion of the two as an uneasy, propulsive trip. While all these emotional complexities are demonstrated it is easy to forget what becomes perfectly clear when the bass drops back in halfway through; that this is still techno, practically in its purest form (a series of loops tied to a 4/4 beat), and eminently danceable. The track is emblematic of one of Willner’s most unique characteristics as a techno artist: he crafts giant pacing machines of sound that mine not the darkness of your average techno but curious and subtle emotions. This is fluidly demonstrated in the uncomfortable guitar of Is This Power or the static plateau of its excellent and driving successor It’s Up There that takes the place of a climax, making the listener wonder just what they’ve been climbing for.

Words like ‘propulsive’ and ‘driving’ are so apt to describe these tracks, and The Field’s releases have always been defined by the masterly way Willner conveys machine-like forward motion in his tracks. What’s notable about this release is that the sounds are richer; the use of live drums and bass lends a warmth to these elaborate pieces. The tracks are then micro-edited to create a perfect fusion of acoustic and electronic, resulting in pieces that feel organic but retain this astonishing mechanical drive. Another interesting element of the sound that has changed is that vocals are now far lower in the mix, taking a backseat to the swirling techno soundscapes. This works fantastically in tracks like the gorgeous Burned Out, in which near-inaudible words drift across seesawing synths and loose keys before the track deconstructs itself, a natural unravelling at the close as the loops appear to play themselves out one by one to beautiful effect. That said, Willner has always had a way with the outro (remember when you first heard A Paw In The Face on his debut and the guitar loop reeled out at the end, revealing itself to be culled from Lionel Richie’s Hello?)

Elsewhere on the LP Willner pulls success after success out of the bag. Arpeggiated Love sounds most like the tracks from his debut, and this serves to highlight his dextrous grasp over The Field’s past and future, alongside his ability to broaden his range without sacrificing the refined quality that marks his compositions. This is all without mentioning storming title track Looping State of Mind, in which his shoegaze influences rise to the fore with a great ambient wash. However the album’s absolute standout moment is when Willner breaks from all convention, leaving his formula for the climax-less penultimate track Then It’s White. Ethereal voices and gently melancholic keys drift lost in a loose percussive landscape, building ever so slowly to devastating emotional effect.

As a listener, one gets the impression that the beats, the loops, the gorgeous sonic details in these swirling soundscapes are Willner’s tools in the sense of the traditional craftsman; as he hones each to its perfect size and then places it with great care and delicacy so that each element sounds fantastic in its own right but even better as a part of a whole. Not only this, but many of the tracks are surprisingly emotionally affecting, and others ever so danceable. There’s no higher praise you can really give to a techno LP. Boiled down to a sentence, this is a collection of rich and beautiful techno tracks from a man who’s not only at the top of his game, but keeps on showing he’s got so much more to give.


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