Release Date: Apr 1, 2016
Record label: Kompakt
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock
It is hard to be unique in electronic music; still harder to develop your own style while retaining a distinct identity. Yet The Field, Axel Willner’s alias, can claim this as a considerable achievement on the release of his fifth album The Follower. After nearly three years away from the long playing game the Swedish producer returns, bringing with him the familiar building blocks of a hypnotic and strangely soothing style, but adding to them in this intriguing suite of six tracks.
“A loop is just a single phrase repeated over and over again.” This definition of one of the pivotal structures in music might come off as harsh and simplistic, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that, sometimes, simplicity does not always equal a false idea of comfort. Technically speaking, such idea of a loop is right: it’s a type of mechanism at heart, something to be developed which, under some materialistic lens, is all about finding the right sound. And that is why such definition is only transitory.
The Field’s muscular micro-loops are meant for small spaces — high-quality headphones, or crowded 250-capacity venues. Last October, the man born Axel Willner practically levitated such an audience at Brooklyn’s Baby’s All Right, where he meticulously laid down the grinding hisses and pops of his ambient hypnoses, escalating the temperature of the room while forcing everyone’s heads down in a combination rave/meditation. Having never seen the Berlin-based producer before, I was carried away by his techno-powered propulsions in a way I wasn’t expecting after experiencing his 2014 magnum opus, Cupid’s Head, in the privacy of my own headspace.
The Field's fourth record, Cupid's Head, was the first to come packaged in black instead of cream-coloured album art. The change heralded a similar progression in Axel Willner's music: much of the levity and playfulness of his first records was replaced by a more dark and dense sound. The Follower, Willner's latest, arrives in similarly plain and dark packaging, and its contents mostly follow the mood of its predecessor.But though The Follower is similar to Cupid's Head, Willner's knack for tweaking his sound enough to make it feel fresh is once again on display.
Swedish producer Axel Willner’s 2011 album title, Looping State of Mind, perhaps sums up his music as The Field better than anything. Referencing his penchant for minimal samples on a tight replay as well as the hypnotic quality it often evokes, fifth album The Follower is very much in the same vein. Dare we say that Willner’s beats, moods and tempos are more consistent this time out, lending The Follower a much easier inroad on first listen.
Back in 2007, The Field’s debut LP From Here We Go Sublime was very rightly heralded as an amazing, unique album: a techno record that was all at once thrilling, uplifting yet technically fairly simple - much was made of Axel Willner’s ability to string out blissful techno using nothing more than a few cut up samples and a relentless 808 kick drum, and on The Follower, his fifth record for legendary German label Kompakt, nothing seems to have changed that much in the past nine years. Indeed, his minimalist template is still very much employed, but ironically, it’s when Willner is expanding his sonic pallette which makes for the more interesting things here - the whirling modular synths that cascade around the title track, or the acid workout that closes ‘Monte Verita’ being good examples of perhaps where Willner should’ve headed, instead of the classic sample heavy sound which makes up most of the album. That’s not to say that the record doesn’t have its moments though, and there are times where you feel that he’s well and truly nailed his sound - the first half of the aforementioned ‘Monte Verita’ is perhaps the most Field sounding thing he’s ever done, and it’s definitely one of the better things here.
The Field's Axel Willner is among electronic music's most doggedly consistent musicians. This consistency, and his awareness of it, is right there in his unshowy and uniform album covers, the design of which has remained entirely unchanged since the beginning of his career, save for a switch from beige to black two albums back. That steadfastness is entirely suited to the work itself: Repetition, extreme repetition, is its modus operandi, its bread and butter, its raison d'être.
Considering who it comes from, "The Follower," the titular lead track from The Field's fifth album, is surprising. A big kick and metronomic bassline rises at 125 BPM, as a rubbery sawtooth sequence, modulated hi-hats and a staccato riff work their way into the mix. It's the kind of muscular techno that could launch a set full of druggy power, but not what Axel Willner, Kompakt's hypno-loop stalwart, has made his name on.
Axel Willner's fifth full-length recording as The Field follows a similar blueprint to 2013's excellent Cupid's Head. The Swedish techno luminary's trademarked looping rhythms and exquisite technical execution are a constant presence, yet The Follower feels more progressive and experimental than anything that's gone before it. .
Looking at The Follower in physical form, there are no indications of a major change in Axel Willner's approach to techno. The cover of the producer's fifth album as the Field features the same print over solid background as the previous albums. Just as the black-on-black look of the preceding Cupid's Head signaled a downbeat disposition, the white-on-black here suggests that nothing is liable to trigger a euphoric rush like the best of the earlier works.
Sweden’s Axel Willner aka The Field starts his fifth album coming on like a punch-drunk Jeff Mills, with sluggish yet exhilaratingly emetic techno which will perhaps come as a surprise to some regular listeners. Things soon lapse (still within the opening title track) into fluffier, pootling electronica, albeit cut with screams manipulated into close cousins of guitar feedback. Pink Sun sees acoustic diddles overlaid with stuttering vocal samples, perhaps suggesting Lemon Jelly if they’d ingested some of Dexys Midnight Runners.
The Field — The Follower (Kompakt)Photo by Sonia AlvarezWriting about music is in some ways so imprecise and so unlike what it’s about that there are famous aphorisms about it. But if trying to match the form of your writing to the form of what you’re writing about is pretty much impossible with any music, it’s even harder to imagine doing so with Axel Willner’s work as the Field. You’d have to somehow be able to repeat the same sentence over and over again, sometimes with small changes, sometimes the same, without getting tedious or pointless.
Our latest installment of Quick Takes may be up a little bit later than usual, but bear with us - with so many surprise releases, from Radiohead to James Blake to Drake, we've been just as overwhelmed as all of you trying to keep up. But that doesn't stop us from acknowledging some records that we ….