July 27, 2007


Sublime Frequencies: The Field turns Lionel Richie and the Mac into thundering, florid ambient triumph (Rob Harvilla, July 24th, 2007, Village Voice)

Though he's got the laptop and the 'stache, no one at the broiling Greenpoint spot Wednesday night mocks Swedish minimal-techno maven Axel Willner, a/k/a the Field. He ain't laughing either. Or smiling. But that laptop burps forth monstrous bass whumps, visceral and violent, with mastodon-heartbeat regularity, each powerful enough to cause its own midtown volcano. Such brute force contrasts wildly with the placid, almost playful trance inducements and ethereal chopped-and-screwed vocals that have helped make the Field's full-length debut, From Here We Go Sublime, metacritic.com's most glowingly reviewed record of 2007. (Eat it, Patty Griffin!)

Describing music of this ilk is notoriously dangerous, a trapdoor into the kind of florid nature writing that anyone who has somehow found themselves describing glaciers in a Sigur Rós review knows all too well. Put simply, Axel specializes in extracting tiny portions of (semi-)beloved pop songs—a split-second, a single beat, a yearning vowel—and looping them ad nauseam into gorgeous ambient Frankensteins that hiccup incessantly until time and pressure hammers those blips into a purring pastoral blur. (For the analog version, turn on VH1 Classic, crank the volume, then stick your finger in your ear and shake vigorously.) Consider Sublime's most sublime moment, "Everyday," which mounts a handful of microscopic moments from Fleetwood Mac's "Everywhere"—mostly snatches of Christine McVie's sonorous soprano, as preserved on the Mac's Tango in the Night, 1987, do yourself a favor —into a rhapsodic, hyperventilating slide show, skipping so joyfully and forcefully it glides.

At times, a song's source material is tougher to pinpoint, unveiled in the last few seconds in its original, umolested form as a magician's reveal. Or a punchline. "A Paw in My Face" dices up a handful of plucked guitar notes, runs them on a melodramatic synth-pop treadmill for five minutes—a sweeping sense of urgency and unease—and, as the track fades, casually flips over its cards: You've been listening to a repurposed snippet of the guitar solo in "Hello," by Lionel Richie. The one with the video where the blind lady sculpts a bust of Lionel's head, yes.

Not sure whether Willner intends this as passionate homage (lookit how beautiful the original is) or a tongue-in-cheek rescue mission (lookit how beautiful this track I made from a butter-slathered ear of '80s corn is). He doesn't strike the Studio B crowd as a hotfooting prankster type, in any event, meekly tipping his bottle of Stella to the few soused revelers who approach the DJ booth.

So, I cut a deal with The Wife--she let me buy a six pack of that Miller Chill they were advertising during the All-Star Game--heartily recommend it and it's nice salty afterbite--if she could buy this Stella stuff (our beer selection is normally limited to Sam Adams and leftovers from what guests brought to dinner parties). I'd never heard of it, but the Other Brother said he went into a bar with a younger co-worker who said it's pretty much replaced Heineken as the ruling yuppie brew. One taste though raises a question: why would the Belgese work so hard to replicate Coors Light?

-MP3s: "The Field" (Hype Machine)
-REVIEW: of The Field: From Here We Go Sublime (Dominic Umile, April 5, 2007 , Phoenix)
Is It Too Early for the First Great Post-Rave Album of the Century?: Axel Willner has spun a golden, hypnotic web of new music from the threads of yesteryear's pop songs (Rachel Shimp, Seattle Weekly)

As the Field, Willner has spun a golden, hypnotic web of new music from the threads of yesteryear's pop songs—if you can figure out which they are. After he submitted a demo tape to Cologne's inimitable ambient/techno label Kompakt (yeah, that method still works), Willner's first 12-inch appeared in 2005, followed by last year's Sun & Ice EP, which rippled through the global music underground like an electric eel. The subsequent full length, From Here We Go Sublime, was released this March to probably more acclaim than any album as unusual—even indie bastion Pitchfork gave it a 9.0 rating. "I could never expect anything like this at all," says Willner of the critical response.

He's still employed by the Systembolaget (Sweden's government-owned liquor stores), and had to work it out with his boss before accepting a near-headlining slot at this summer's Pitchfork Music Festival, according to Pitchfork Editor in Chief Ryan Schreiber. Willner says he isn't recognized as a local celebrity in Stockholm and rarely hears himself on the radio. Here, KEXP has put Sublime into regular rotation, with interesting results. Seemingly because of the songs' abrupt bookends, DJs often halt their sets to announce and explain a Field song, unsure of how to segue it. The album's 10 tracks range from four to 10 minutes long. Each is a riff on a song from Willner's past, from the Flamingo's "I Only Have Eyes for You" (the title track) to Kate Bush's "Under Ice" ("Over the Ice"). Willner locates an element or three in the original song and transforms them into a continuous series of loops and edits that bury the original, creating hazy, trancelike meditations out of material as comfortingly familiar as a baby blanket. They're manipulated on fairly ancient editing software and mixed live, allowing quirks and mistakes to stay in. Hints to the songs' origins are in their re-worked titles, and moments such as the four-second vocal snippet in "Everyday" that lets you know it's Fleetwood Mac (previously "Everywhere").

"It always sounds to me like someone bumped the turntable and there's some pop single that's just skipping back on its peak moment," says Schreiber, who considers Sublime one of his favorite electronic albums of the decade. Playing it during prime time is an adventurous move for KEXP, which is sponsoring the Field's appearance at this month's Broken Disco party at Chop Suey.

"I think the indie scene wouldn't like it, though it seems that a lot of people do," says Willner. "But there are no parallels to rock and roll. There's no chorus, verse—nothing at all. Perhaps it's because the samples that I use are often from artists, so they can understand it on another level."

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 27, 2007 12:41 PM

You can praise "Miller Chill" and find Stella similar to Coors Light?

It must be the crazy pills.

Posted by: Twn at July 27, 2007 12:57 PM

Miller Chill? No thanks. What's next? Zima?

Stella's ok. It's no Pilsner Urquel, but it does have significantly more body than Coors Light or even Bud.

Interesting that it's caught on with yuppies here, when it's distinctly a lower class beer in England, lager-lout brew of choice, perhaps b/c it's fractionally higher in octane than most other lagers.

Your wife definitely has better taste in beer, you sissy.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at July 27, 2007 1:04 PM

She's a chick, she drinks wine.

Posted by: oj at July 27, 2007 2:46 PM

Geez, you guys sound like Tom Tancredo--what do you have against an occasional chelada?

Posted by: oj at July 27, 2007 3:12 PM