opinion by DORIAN MENDOZA
For the past six years and change, Swedish electronic producer Axel Willner has been building his reputation as an electro wizard under the moniker The Field, engineering some of the best ambient pop to come out of Europe. Standout albums like Looping State of Mind and Yesterday and Today were bright external efforts with guest musicians, adapting sound from pop to shoegaze for sunny, dance flavored meditations all the while staying in sight of krautrock and classic minimalism roots. His fourth full length comes pulsing through the heavens as Cupid’s Head, a noticeably darker and more synthesized effort than anything that’s come before, but it’s still as accomplished in its encompassing and palpable grind though the space and time of electronic and loop experimentation.
While Willner has explained that producing the album was a solo effort, its sparse “raw” nature was a natural turn of events in the writing process. The physical presence of the sound on the album is Cupid’s Head’s most valuable weapon. Like Fuck Buttons’s 2013 standout Slow Focus, Cupid’s Head is a practice in patience and the scrupulous dissection of aura. Feel the loss of time and place on tracks like the jittery “Black Sea” or the fuzzy “20 Seconds of Affection,” where dashes of longing and optimism and hope and doom all whirl about in a haze of sound that feel instantaneous on ten minute long cuts. The sonic palette is thick with emotion and catharsis as Willner paints his tracks, and while they are indeed darker and possibly more meditative than before, it is only a symptom of his more personal approach to writing after an extensive touring period.
Album highlight “No. No…” is nine minutes of a churning pulse of sub-bass groove and sputtering loops. Under a microphone the loops here are crude and bracing, but from a distance are smooth and subtle, essential to the drive of the almost six minute long climb to the precipice of the track, which drops off an even simpler arrangement of sound. And while the dance element of some of Willner’s previous work is absent from most of Cupid’s Head, the title track exudes a wonderful beat, giving the brightest moments on the record. It is a mass of throbbing groove where signature chopped vocals and atmospheric synths work, successfully varying the loop’s template enough to create a dynamic track.
Down to the black album cover and evocative title, the album is indeed dark. But with only six tracks (the shortest of which clocks in at just under seven minutes), the meticulous examination of various soundscapes and their respective ascensions and releases of tension allow Cupid’s Head to be more dynamic than one would think. In true form and fashion, Willner does here what he does best: simple and sustained loops, adorned with ambient, yet natural brush strokes of distorted vocals and other cloudy sounds. Yet Cupid’s Head feels and sounds like something novel that a vacuum spit out rather than an agglomeration of everything that it sucked in; it’s frantic and, as Willner puts it, “not too polished,” but all the while organic and personal. More than ever, Willner’s own soul is put on display through his repurposing of sound, and what results is both synthetic and organic, both detailed and blurry, further cementing The Field’s reputation in the electronic ether. [B+]
The Field – Cupid’s Head tracklist
01 The Won’t See Me
02 Black Sea
03 Cupid’s Head
04 A Guided Tour
05 No. No…
06 20 Seconds of Affection