The Field's new album is not a case of diminishing returns, but a work about refining electronic music which was, by definition, already perfect.
"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. “Timing and layering make it complex," the author admits later, much to his disbelief.
However, for Axel Willner, the electronic music artist operating under the Field moniker, a loop seems to be something else entirely. It’s a way of approaching music in its own right; it’s an aesthetic; it’s a form of making music and sampling; it’s something more than just materialistic talk about sounds.
Ever since releasing From Here We Go Sublime in 2007, Willner has made his job to pursue and perfect this sound. A mixture of techno, glitch and ambient music, he has set out to be a master on the nature of repetition in music. A repetition which has gained different tones and aspects over the years, as his music evolved and transformed itself, but that singularity, that single aspect -- that love for the hypnotic beat, that looping state of mind (literally) has always stayed with him.
Maybe because, after all, the sampler happens to be a memory machine. And with his latest album, The Follower, the Field’s music has started to be refined, to properly evoke memories. That is due to the fact that, for the first time since his debut, The Follower is a work on the subject of retrospection. It sounds both familiar and adventurous, drawing on the sounds and ideas of his previous material, while still forging a sense of uniqueness. He’s moving on while staying true to his world, to his aesthetics.
While listening to The Follower, one could get the feeling that Willner is repeating himself (something which could be said about Cupid’s Head as well). That is only partially understandable. His work has always verged on repetition itself -- loops, synths, pads and any given sound he gets to play with. Yet, this is not a case of diminishing returns as The Follower keeps giving and giving, despite the occasional sensation of experiencing déjà vu. That’s because, since at least 2011’s Looping State of Mind, Willner has become more preoccupied with stabilizing his aesthetics than actually pursuing other sounds.
So this is the frame through which we should listen to The Follower: a process of refinement. The title track, the opener, gives away this idea, as it is as propulsive as anything else the Field has ever been committed to creating. It’s still hypnotic and adventurous. Still, this is new. He is now aiming at perfection.
“Pink Sun” finds him at his most psychedelic. Which is something that represents a switch of angles for him. Most of the Field’s tracks have been known for moving on slowly, with changes rarely being noticeable over time. Now, he suggests unruliness and agitation. “Soft Streams” is one of those rare examples in his discographies. Axel Willner’s music has always been, metaphorically speaking, known for its ambience and contemplativeness. Now he’s willing to explore, even if that means just a bit of change to the way he creates his loops.
The subtle changes appear more blatantly in the last track, “Reflecting Lights”, arguably his least traditional since his debut in 2007. Which, of course, says a lot: he’s ditching his minimalist overtones and entering more populist territory. The song sounds (rightfully) ecumenical. Organs fill the track as it slowly escalates into full-blown euphoria. It slinks past the 14-minute mark, yet it never loses its steady pace it gained right in the beginning. This is his epopee.
Willner has has learnt how to move on while still developing his already characteristic sound. The Follower does not mean necessarily progress, because it’s certain he’s preoccupied with evolving or entering new sonic territories. Which is forgiven already, since he has given us plenty to think of and ruminate. “The Follower is about old myths, finding utopia and how mankind repeatedly makes the same mistakes over and over," Willner states in a press release. That is, it’s not a coincidence that his music is an exercise on repetition and sampling and looping (perhaps on the subject of human nature itself), just like a memory machine. This album is, before anyone else say it is case of diminishing returns, a work of mastery, a manifesto on looking behind.