Monday, September 12, 2011

The Field: Looping State Of Mind

The Field
Looping State of Mind
Rating: Woof Daddy

An age old question in music is, if you are an artist that has released a seminal album in your genre, what do you do for a follow up? You can play it safe and deliver more of the same in order to capitalize on the good will of said album (Daft Punk comes to mind), or you can slightly tweak your sound and take in a slightly different direction (Boards of Canada, for instance), or you can basically do a 180 and push your sound in directions not previously thought of (i.e., Radiohead and U2). There are all sorts of pitfalls with regards to any of those directions and while some work wonderfully, others tend to be well off the mark. With regards to The Field, Swedish producer Axel Willner, his debut album From Here We Go Sublime was an instant classic of minimal trance techno. His uncanny ability to take simple loops and build them into such gorgeous works of art was nothing short of breathtaking. Listening to the album now, I still get the same rush I did when I first heard it. The follow up, Yesterday and Today, seemed hesitant and stagnant. While it was still beautiful and excellently produced, it just seemed like more of the same, and was a slight disappointment. With his latest album Looping State of Mind, Willner doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel, but he definitely takes more risks than on Yesterday and Today, adding subtle touches that surprise and charm.

Opening track "Is This Power" is almost textbook The Field, looped synth lines paired with hissy drum programming, building upon layer after layer, but the addition of a subtle guitar and bass line is new and appealing. The most shocking element is when the track basically falls out toward the end and around the 6:30 mark becomes almost funky.

Which is continued through the second track "It's Up There," adding more funky bass and keyboards to the icy, trance mix.

Throwing a complete curveball, Willner ends the album with two of the most non-Field tracks he has ever recorded. "Then It's White" is pure, unadulterated gorgeousness; taking almost Eno-esque ambient piano and merging it with glitchy percussion, and quiet synth strings.

And "Sweet Slow Baby" reaches into experimental territory, with stuttering percussion, droning keyboard loops, and heavily treated vocal samples.

Of course, the middle section of the album is packed with more tracks The Field is known for, long, sweeping, exquisitely produced techno. "Burned Out" builds slowly and dreamily, echoes of distorted vocals blurring in and out of the mix of synths and drone guitar.

With the centerpiece of the album being the twenty minutes of pure blissed out trance of "Arpeggiated Love" and "Looping State of Mind," neither of which are in any hurry to get to the final destination, slowly growing in intensity and depth, with the former reaching an M83 height of drama, and the latter building off a quirky drum pattern while subtlety adding element upon element, until the last three minutes become a haze of orgiastic bliss.

Looping State of Mind began as more of the same to me, but ended by really subverting my expectations. By adding just slight new touches to his trademark sound, Willner opens the door to allow for a lot of whimsicality to his tracks. With every listen there is something new I discover, and yet all of the tracks are bound by his distinctive sound. Looping State of Mind is a definite grower that latches on to you and won't let go. By far, one of the best techno albums of the year.

Rating Guide

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and peaks one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

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