Published on September 24th, 2013 | by Dave Scaddan0
The Field – Cupid’s Head
Loops. Is it right to credit those who find, engineer, or create them? Is ‘create’ even the right term for what one does when a small section of a digital audio file is circled back into itself like an aural Ouruboros? Don’t we sometimes find ourselves listening to those who deconstruct and reconstruct preexisting, borrowed music as DJ Shadow, Skrillex, or Venetian Snares do and think, ‘If I dicked around with the right equipment for long enough, I’d stumble over something just as cool?’ Where does remixing end and looping begin, and as long as the results sound smooth, how much do questions like these ultimately matter?
‘Cupid’s Head’ is the fourth album in six years from Axel Willner, aka The Field, though there has been plenty of side work under other names in that time. His most recognizable music is exemplified by soft, edgy loops that burn and die through various filters while muffled-but-punchy drum sequences are threaded through the mix. The result is typically a mildly hypnotic score that is well suited to reading, exercise, travel, or sleep. Willner’s music as The Field can be like the background track you’d gradually forget was there, and miss immediately as soon as it ended. His knack for sequencing and masking samples that are never obvious, yet never too maniacally twisted, has lent credence to the idea that other people’s music can function as the modern musician’s sole (or very predominant) instrument of choice without costing one credibility as a bona-fide creator. Many try to walk this line, but it’s a precious few who can glean their own trademarks from the sounds of yore, instead of just inheriting the trademarks of their source materials. Willner has seemed to know this right from the start, since he turned a very small piece of Lionel Ritchie’s ‘Hello’ into ‘A Paw In My Face’ on his first album, letting the loop teeter on the edge of recognition for a full five minutes before tipping his hand in the fade-out like a kitten flexing his claws.
The eyes-closed-but-not-asleep plane ride jam factor is still functioning on ‘Cupid’s Head,’ and for the first two tracks the record finds a stay-the-course, steady-as-she-goes groove that is distinctly Willner’s. By the heart of the album, though, at least some of the loops border on mild annoyance. There’s a fine line between soothing repetition and irritating repetition, and each listener keen on The Field’s past work should make his or her mind up independently about this, but there’s a certain off-kilter brashness to some of Willner’s newest audio Mobius strips that may not strike many familiar (or indeed agreeable) chords. Then, at times, this brashness finds its way into eerier, creepier, witchier numbers, like the hauntingly titled album highlight, ‘No. No . . .’, which could easily be imagined as an alternate score for Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining or the Fidelio segments of Eyes Wide Shut. A strange mix of pulsing snippets of female voices (something like what Matias Aguayo might use as a template) sink the listener into a kind of tribal nightmare. By the time this track is over, the best — and worst — of ‘Cupid’s Head’ has come and gone, and some of Willner’s swings of mood have arced effectively, others not. All that’s left is the swishy, familiar metronomic build and crest of the final track, ’20 Seconds Of Affection’ (clocking in at just under ten minutes) and the album is over, the plane has landed, the sleeper has awakened, the silence has returned.
The journey is mostly pleasant, as any sojourn with any album by The Field can be, though it’s best moments are probably satisfying in much the same way as ‘Looping State Of Mind’ or ‘From Here We Go To Sublime’ were. What’s added here is an attempt at a somewhat ‘darker’ mood (note the interrupted pattern of album art here, same format, same font, but blackened) that hits the mark once and scratches the blackboard a few other times, making this a typical risk/reward alteration of past grooves and moods. Willner is still a musical reconstructionist of well-deserved acclaim, but ‘Cupid’s Head’ just isn’t the brave departure or the slick rebranding that it seems he wanted it to be. One standout track and a few fond remembrances aside, this record doesn’t innovate that effectively on the premises of the previous The Field albums. Watch this artist closely, as he’s making moves to evolve an already impressive trademark sound, just don’t bet the farm on his latest release and its ability to lull us into hypnosis like his first three.