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Posted on September 30th, 2013 (8:43 am) by Ricky Perrotta

Cupid's Head, the fourth proper album from Axel Willner, a.k.a The Field, begins with a disarmingly pretty blast of distorted sound, evoking white light and a hand reaching out to the listener. The sound quickly begins to erode. It wants you to reach back and grab onto it as it resolves into forever. Hurry up, you're almost there! That's it! Wait, you're going to...it's gone. Just before it can fade out of existence, the listener is jarred awake by a quick, heavy thump underneath a cold, high-pitched ring that's being chopped up and spit back out in disparate lengths. The thumping is then interrupted by a stutter-step, crossover dribble drum loop.

I defy anyone to keep tapping along with the original thump after that drum loop starts. Like the white light before it, it's gone. The rest of the song drones with rumbling bass that is simultaneously bleak and grand. The entire time, that harsh, high-pitched ringing persists. Right at the end, everything cuts away except for a fading buzz that sounds mysteriously like the opening blast of sound played backwards.

The opener is called “They Won't See Me,” and everything about it, from tone to arrangement, is prescient. As advertised by Willner himself, Cupid's Head is the darkest and coldest offering from the Field yet, though certainly not without warmth. Looping State of Mind was a more accessible record, all things considered. Cupid's Head is fractured in comparison. Bits of rhythm are in and out constantly. The beats one thinks are going to remain are stripped or subverted, forced to compete for time, and yet there is always a tether creating the impression that the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.

Bands that use lyrics do not tell stories this well. The second track, “Black Sea,” starts off with a clipped vocal loop which ends up sounding like a countdown. Light, feathery blips are added, and swirling atmospherics sound almost like waves. It's the beginning of a sunny voyage. Once in a while we're reminded that something darker is lurking as bass loops sporadically creep into the mix, but for the most part it's a pleasant trip. The transition is quick and merciless. Turbulence is added to the low end. This goes on for a scant few measures, then the warm blips and bright fuzz disappear, and we are left with just the turbulence and the unstoppable countdown. This is clearly the dangerous part of the expedition. The bass line swells up and down. The Field's genius is that he also lets this become one of the most danceable sections on the record. Once the high hat is introduced, the listener can't help but want to get out of their seat and be swept along into oblivion.

The title track and “A Guided Tour” are a relief mood wise, though still filled with musical tension. “A Guided Tour” glides in on a gentle unfolding of sounds that is allowed to crescendo until it becomes the warmest, fullest track on the album. Repeating twinkles and chirps fill in the space behind a deep, ambient yawning.

Then there is “No. No..."—it is a masterpiece. “No. No...” begins with a repeated popping sound that somehow brings to mind a racing heartbeat. The space is filled by that sound's dry echo, an underlying bass consisting of just two notes and a vocal loop which pleads, “No, no, no, no,” several times before speeding up until it's just the 'n' sound on repeat. It's a rather dark track, but again, there are deft touches that keep the listener wanting to move—a quick, light-fingered rat-a-tat-tat in the first section, and in the second section, a new, funkier vocal loop comes in to compete with the first before replacing it as the centerpiece, changing the rhythm of the song. The original loop is then reintroduced, but slowed down—deeper, sadder. It's loud but sounds distant. Different tapping sounds arrive now and then without regard for the tempo and threaten to tear everything apart. The heartbeat once again becomes more prominent, and everything turns to sludge. We're left with the increasingly intermittent heartbeat, until it too stops. The effect is disquieting and jaw-dropping.

Final track “20 Seconds of Affection” is all bright fuzz and distortion, reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine. It starts loud, stays loud. Various squeaks and tones can be heard fluttering in the background. It's the kind of conclusion that gives one time to contemplate after everything that has come before it.

With a debut as strong as From Here We Go Sublime, the narrative for The Field is destined to be, “Where do we go from here?” On Cupid's Head, The Field faces that challenge head on. Rather than take a left turn, they prove there are depths yet to be plumbed in their current aesthetic. These songs have the flow of slowly unwinding narratives, replete with subtle twists and turns along the way besides being danceable and musically invigorating. I've given my takes on the music, but the wonderful thing is everyone will have a different interpretation. Repeated listens are rewarded with new sounds, new rhythms, and fresh insights. Take the time to give this album it's proper due.

1. They Won't See Me
2. Black Sea
3. Cupid's Head
4. A Guided Tour
5. No. No...
6. 20 Seconds of Affection

The Field: Cupid's Head
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

89 / 100
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