The Field
Yesterday and Today

3.5 out of 5 stars

It’s easy to approach a techno album with preconceived notions on the genre and dismiss it as an addition to the metric ton of mindless trash that currently populates nightclubs across the globe. To see beyond this stigma, one must look past the obvious bump‘n’grind hooks and dig deeper to find the true musicianship beneath the slapped-on “electronic music” label.

For every commercialized style of music, there are artists who are able to attain a level of craftsmanship worthy of both popular and critical recognition. Enter Swedish techno artist Axel Willner, who records and performs his own brand of minimalist techno under the appropriately vast and ambiguous moniker The Field. On his second release Yesterday and Today, Willner conjures up six tracks that deliver a mind-boggling blend of live instrument samples and laptop loops, anchored by the driving bass beats that are every techno artist’s first love.

The album’s opener “I Have the Moon, You Have the Internet” begins with four beatless minutes of sonically layered crescendo as Willner lures his audience in a slow but deliberate fashion. When the beat finally drops, it sends the track into a repetitive, ambient turbine.

A minimalist by trade, Willner loops samples over one steady beat, deviating only in pitch and dynamics. He tweaks and adds layers in a methodical fashion that contributes to the mesmerizing themes of his songs.

Most of the songs on the album are completely instrumental. When Willner does decide to use vocal samples, the words become extremely poignant.

On “Everbody’s Got to Learn Sometime,” the haunting delivery of the lyrics “Change your heart / look around you / Change your heart / it will astound you / I need your lovin’ / Like the sunshine” reveals an underlying sentiment of optimism in the midst of dark music. The woeful croon of James Warren, lead singer of British pop band the Korgis, is countered by glitchy synths and waves of cymbals.

The title track showcases The Field’s ability to collaborate with live musicians. Willner employs Battles’s drummer John Stanier, whose mathematical style weaves seamlessly into the mix. As the drum track becomes exceedingly dominant, Willner dulls the sequenced samples, yielding a blistering, syncopated sound that acoustically closes out the song. Compared to 2007’s From Here We Go Sublime, Yesterday is much more progressive as exemplified by the extended song lengths and the bare aesthetic.

To the casual listener, Yesterday and Today may serve superficially as perfect background music, easily gliding in and out of one’s attention without the disturbance of frequently shifting dynamics. Though seemingly easy to write off as mindless, the album’s unique and eclectic presentation holds up nicely.

Essentially, The Field is delivering an intellectual stimulus package. It takes a dedicated listener to weave through the endless complexities of these pieces, but the end result is equally beautiful and mysterious.

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