AXEL WILLNER. Lars Blek. Porte. Cordouan. James Larson. The Field. The man of many faces, a bright spot in the dreary, pretentious haze of the electronic music scene, he is also one of the best-reviewed artists of the past few years. Ironically it’s under that weight—the pressure of surmounting hype and over-criticism—that his material tends to underperform. From Here We Go Sublime stood at odds with its genre’s constraints as much as its high praise, strangely off-kilter and full of expression in spite of being little more than an exercise in minimal crescendos, soft beats offsetting samples of spoken word and Coldplay choruses played backwards. As a strange piece of creative production design and technical skill, it grew on the mind with each listen. But when elevated to a culturally significant recording, the seams began to show Sublime for what it was: undercooked and overrated.
Taking its name from the controversial Beatles recording, Yesterday & Today avoids the risk that Willner will fall out of fashion with the Pitchfork crowd: he accentuates his technical skill with actual song-craft, leaning closer to the creative vein of his Sound of Light EP than The Field’s debut full-length. Taking those cues into the organic realm—acoustic drums and electric bass lines—The Field become a band, dabbling in the exchange between the melodramatic machinations of electronica and the raw, accidental flow of a live jam. “Everybody Got to Learn Sometime” has vocals and lyrics, albeit with a mechanical flow, that teases a hook never delivered. It finds its niche in the climax, when suddenly, it all stops, and the bells keep pining in the stark silence.
“Leave It” and “I Have the Moon, You Have the Internet” both pulsate with wild abandon, casting their nets mightily for well-dressed, liquor-blurred clubbers. The former accents a basic loop (he’s used this one before) with an off-kilter series of clicks and warbles, exuding a drug-like stupor that’s produced with an energetic, stadium-ready sheen. “I Have the Moon…” has a rare, fleeting energy so keenly captured in a juxtaposition of warm and cold sounds.
Lead single “The More That I Do” is the closest thing to straightforward pop we’ve heard yet from The Field, rich with sexual tension and wordless sounds, still less industrial than the debut’s creative cousin track, “The Little Heart Beats So Fast.” “Sequenced” marries a determined rock up-beat with a software guitar loop and droning melancholy, sure to eventually announce any number of gritty action thrillers coming to a theater near you. The acoustic drums lend a sense of open space to the whole affair, widening the scope and promising an experimental palette richer in albums to come.
The title track features percussionist John Stanler of “math-rock” band Battles and a series of crescendos. Musically, it gives us the most to process—first the background layers, then the initial loop, then live percussion, then vocal loops, a break as the tension dies for only a moment, then further elaboration on the initial theme. Willner rarely lets the occasional effects stand out (drowned out as they are by melodies or drum loops), but when they do, the album reaches a perfect union of the inorganic and the human.
It’s this paradox that explains the almost obsessive fascination listeners have with The Field. Willner uses his production design—his intensely specific skills—to paint the complexity of specific emotions, not simply a serving set of genre-inclusive ideals. Minimalism is too small a term for his work, and hardly describes much of it; The Field, first one man, now three, force together musical ideas whether they fit or not. The result is stunning in only the best possible ways.
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