The Field Yesterday and Today

[Kompakt/ANTI-; 2009]

Styles:  electronic
Others: Gas, The Orb, My Bloody Valentine

In the race towards the eclectic, everyone heads for the same emblems of otherness. It's one of those paradoxes. The natural tendency for opinion to become centralized, even amongst left-of-the-dial types, is perhaps particularly problematic when consensus falls on a techno record. What does the face of a famously anonymous genre look like? How does a product of our roots and rock culture understand, much less enjoy, an envoy from this historically insular scene?

TMT writer Gabriel Keehn, in his [review->] of I Love Dubstep, likened listening to Burial's self-titled debut — without close familiarity with UK garage and grime — to embracing Finnegan's Wake before reading Portrait of the Artist. This was my stance on The Field's debut, From Here We Go Sublime, as writers from all quadrants of the alt-world were stumbling over each other to sing the record's praises, effectually announcing their well-rounded listening habits without ever having to sweat through an actual rave. Upon listening to it, I realized that, unlike Finnegan's Wake, it was as accessible to newcomers as it was rewarding to connoisseurs. Whatever mechanisms were at work catalyzing the success of From Here We Go Sublime, it seems fair to say that it was a case of the cream rising to the top.

True, The Field's record label, Kompakt (ANTI- in the US), had been crossing the dance/ambient/art-rock divide for years, its many Loveless-influenced releases beckoning to curious dance noobs. Foregoing any dubious and exhausting meta-history — tracing the path from 1980s Detroit to Wolfgang Voigt — Yesterday and Today, the sophomore effort from The Field (née Axel Willner), can be easily understood as part of the tradition of moody follow-ups à la In Utero: a pairing of a signature sound with willful experimentalism. Yesterday and Today alludes to the identically-titled Beatles record with the famous "butcher" cover, one of the Fab Four's first attempts to break free of their golden boy image. The opening track's repulsive title "I Have the Moon, You Have the Internet" is another barometer of Willner's mood: a little petty and defensive, but steadfastly gazing towards the sublime.

Willner needs his space and, in six tracks averaging 10 minutes in length, his time as well. The mathematical precision that had listeners counting the measures on From Here We Go Sublime is ceded in favor of a more organic and unwieldy approach. Battles drummer John Stanier guests on several of the tracks, part of the record-long quest to blow genre limitations sky high. Even where Yesterday and Today stops short of total success, it succeeds in clearing new avenues for the imagination to explore. Here, electronic instruments carry none of their usual avant futurism baggage; they are as apt a representation of the natural world as any.

One of the record's noble failures is "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime," which is more a meditation on the original Korgis tune than either an oblique remix or conventional cover. If The Field sample the full chorus of a song and ploddingly reconstruct its chord progression, is it still The Field? The answer to that existential question may never be known, but either way it's sort of boring.

Subsequent track "Leave It," an unmitigated success, warms up comfortably before releasing its dub-disco bassline that recalls the best of vintage Orb. "The More That I Do" employs the From Here We Go Sublime recipe more effectively than ever, with minced vocal samples morphing slowly into a breakdown and ultimately an ego-death catharsis. Later, the transition in "Yesterday and Today" from drum machine and synths to live drums and bass is a thrilling innovation on beatmatching.

Nobody who has heard From Here will ever forget the moment when "A Paw in My Face" devolved into its Lionel Richie source material; here, the breakdown of "The More That I Do" is further evidence of Willner's genius as a sort of techno Rauschenberg. I could listen to many more of his iterations on this trick before I got remotely tired of it.

The bells at the end of "I Have the Moon, You Have the Internet," the new wave flourishes on "The More That I Do" — these peculiar charms of pure electronic bliss do not lend themselves well to articulation. 'Cerebral' is the word for them, but this music must be absorbed into the central nervous system before it can make its way to the brain. The sweaty rave is indeed unnecessary; a pair of Steinhausers in your own darkened room will do quite well.

1. I Have The Moon, You Have The Internet
2. Everybody's Got To Learn Sometime
3. Leave It
4. Yesterday & Today
5. The More That I Do
6. Sequenced

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