Yesterday and Today
Axel Willner must be scared shitless. His first effort, 2007’s From Here We Go Sublime, was recognized as a humane act in techno and trance music, elevating it from the status of “crap ravers listen to” to the prestigious “valid genre of music.” His minimalist approach to a traditionally bombastic style of music was revolutionary, evocative and progressive. The praise heaped upon that album would be daunting enough for any musician attempting a follow up, but Willner will not be moved. The Field is going to legitimize techno.
His latest release, Yesterday and Today, is an organic and meditative collage of live instrumentation, electronic structures and restrained sound patterns that blend together to create what can only be described as a sonic sensation. “I Have the Moon, You Have the Internet” is a drone-inspired ride that chugs along, buzzing like a helicopter until it finally releases with a lovely and soft chime, which segues into the next song: a cover of The Korgis’ “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime.” Here The Field transforms it from a heartbreaking plea to an enveloping landscape that uses its light yet piercing keyboard and drums to caress the sparse and dreamy vocals. The song then remains steadfast in its progression, until the synths, keyboards and drums increase incrementally. Just when it’s about to unravel, it drops out onto a tinny bleep. It baits, switches, and closes out what a cover song ought to be: something new and exciting out of the same old sound.
Willner must have made this his personal mantra. The beauty of this music is that although it is technically limited by a genre, it does not allow itself to be pigeonholed. These songs could easily be admired sitting in a living room, on a computer, as background noise, or over two drinks at a local indie dance club, with the room pulsing and pounding along. These six sonic architectures act as the testament of a man fully aware of what his music should sound like, and adamantly refusing to comply.
Featuring Battles’ John Stanier acting as percussive ringmaster, title track “Yesterday and Today” cements the album’s power. The music gains momentum while the keyboard fades in and out, and hands itself over to a watery synth sound. It’s a sublime moment when the tempo spikes and a sonar effect comes into play, while the buried and hazy Doppler refrain perks up at the right moment and anchors the whole thing together, both album and song.
“The More That I Do” is a metallic and squelchy loop accented with warped chants, and evokes mild dissonance, as implied by the title. It maintains a sharp and consistent speed, taunting and teasing at some expansion, but then suddenly drops out into a light squeak that seams together this composition and the final track. The foundation of this and the other works on Yesterday and Today is the idea of the constant as a haven as well as a threat. Although some of the tracks tend toward consistency, there is an underlying tension about them that not only makes them stand out structurally, but also elevates the music into suites to be studied and observed, not just listened to. This album takes the techno archetypes of coldness and distance and strips them down minimally, and in doing so it creates warmth from the nakedness of the arrangements.
Closer “Sequenced” finishes the album on the note where it began, with the drums and the keys as rails, guiding the album to its thematic conclusion. For 15 minutes these guides move and maintain their pace, always threatening to crash, but never quite doing that. It is a nice bookend to the opening track, and sets the album down gently. The Field has managed to remake techno music by stripping it of its expectations and making songs that bubble beneath the surface, lurching toward the erupting sound of a techno record, but channeling themselves into something more subtle and engaging. Even when Willner allows the tracks to pitch and shift, such as on the eponymous “Yesterday and Today,” there is a matter of control and structure that is still intact. Yesterday and Today proves that although the path can remain the same, what matters is how the journey takes us more than where. It gets you coming and going.
by Rafael Gaitan