The Field: Yesterday and Today

Sweden's sublime techno genius returns with a second full-length.

The Field

Yesterday and Today

Label: Kompakt
US Release Date: 2009-05-19
UK Release Date: 2009-05-18

I liked The Field's debut, From Here We Go Sublime. OK, I liked it a lot. The feeling it engendered, Swedish wunderkind Axel Willner's debut, was difficult to describe in words. Critics talked about a "constantly expanding" sound, or the idea of "endless crescendos". What you felt, as a casual listener, was this strangely emotional 4/4 techno. Out of scraps of other songs, mostly unrecognizable, Willner had constructed these soundscapes of enormous power.

From Here We Go Sublime had a particular quirk that listeners came to love, but which it was a surprise to learn was a mistake of his recording process. That is, the volume abruptly racheted-up from time to time – usually in the middle of a thematic idea. This happened because the simple, decade-old computer program Willner used to compose his songs couldn't handle the layers he added – and, since he recorded it all in one live take – he ended up with these odd volume shifts. Eventually, they came to seem natural to the songs' larger rebuttal of dance's natural climax-driven structure. Willner dropped us in, unceremoniously, in a new sonic world, and left us to piece together the rest.

Though the Field has a recognizable pieced-together sound on his new album, there's much less of that chanced-on sublimation. Instead, Willner has fun with bigger chunks brought in from other genres. This is heard clearest on the title track, which takes a right-turn midway through to wander, for a while, into jazz-improvisation. John Stanier, percussionist for Battles, gets a minute to show off, with spectacular results – and yes, it's truly a breakdown. Don't hear that too often in the Field's other work. Either way, Willner’s way of achieving his trance-like state is not new – he uses loops of samples (mainly wordless vocals) and repetitive, minimal percussion – but somehow the tools remain secondary to the potent atmospheres they create. The samples are, we’re told, unlicensed clips from quite recognizable artists and songs; the catch is that they’re milliseconds long. This is truly sound construction from the atomic level up.

Only this time, instead of pulling sounds straight from the computer, Willner's found a rich source in live instrumentation. Talk's been about the album's "organic" feel, primarily driven by the collaboration, on the album's title track, with Stanier. But 'organic' shouldn't be an excuse for 'obvious'. 90% of the time, Willner's all over the difference, making the most of newly-expanded textures with obvious pleasure. "The More That I Do" has the propulsion of the best stuff from From Here We Go Sublime but a much richer texture, as if it's a bucket that's been heaped full of sound. Only once does he slip further towards pop than he ever has. It's on "Everybody Got to Learn Sometime", his cover of British group the Korgis' song, which was also previously transmuted into a Top 40 dance song by Baby D. Willner's version refutes that version completely, transforming the refrain to a wistful, melancholic hook. But the wide-sky, ambient trance of the meat of the song has a little of that 'chilled compilation' feel with less of the cerebral payoff than previous work.

But so much of the rest of the time, the Field's music effortlessly takes your breath away. "I Have the Moon You Have the Internet" is a leisurely opening, and the build-to-climax is unusually expected. Maybe it's just that I haven't been listening to that much techno recently, but it still somehow sounds fresh. Part of the charm's in each song's patience, and this opening's a sterling example. Yesterday and Today even recalls Dan Deacon, now and then – not just in the warm, woods-and-open-sky aesthetic; but in the drop-off at track's end, wandering into a quiet, rootless coda.

As with most of the Field's music, Yesterday and Today works better through headphones than in the club. You’d get too many people transfixed, just staring out into the middle distance. But that’s what makes it such a powerful experience to listen to on your own. So cue up "Sequenced": let its static alternation and its basic bass and hi-hat drift through you and out across an icy landscape. It’s the pulse of 2009.





12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.


Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."


David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.


On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.


Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.


Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.


Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."


How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.