The Field is as emotional and organic as electronic music gets, but Axel Willner’s muscular techno is most often characterised as hypnotic and repetitive. This is perhaps to be expected; the haunting samples at the core of his tracks loop relentlessly as his resonant beats ebb and flow around them. Despite the repetition, the music is anything but stagnant. His latest offering, the six sturdy cuts that make up ‘The Follower’, are perhaps amongst the most repetitive in his whole discography, but they’re also undeniably progressive and satisfying.
The producer’s album output has been incredibly consistent up to this point. His minimalist artwork, consisting of nothing but a title and a stark black backdrop, mirrors the music in both its restraint and cohesion. Since his boldly titled breakthrough, ‘From Here We Go Sublime’, Willner has been crafting minimal techno tracks that succeed thanks to the same trick of tension building and cathartic release. This is no bad thing either; at this point, Willner has mastered the style and a lack of new structures doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of new ideas.
Despite the obvious similarities to his classic output, ‘The Follower’s’ title track creeps within shadows much darker than we’ve ever seen from the producer. It begins with a low rumble of synths that come in and out of focus with a sharp buzz, before retreating behind warm bass kicks. Things build steadily, with warped hi-hats ticking ominously as a fractured vocal sample flicks between notes, hinting at major and minor melodies with every mesmerising repetition. At the four minute mark, everything goes still except for floating synth pads that crackle and hiss before sturdy bass drums and sharp snare smacks enter. In these long moments of stillness, the shift of a semitone or the sudden emergence of a cymbal feel gargantuan.
It’s exactly the kind of techno Kompakt has become regarded for, but with an ambient atmosphere that soaks up all the tension before releasing it back through propulsive beats and dance focused rhythms. The album’s six tracks come at an average length of ten minutes, filling every moment with details to eat up and suspense to build on.
On tracks like ‘Monte Verita’, the results are downright stunning. As the album’s emotional peak, the track builds effortlessly. A constantly elevating chord sequence throws new shades of light onto its melancholy string sample with every shifting note. It holds the same kind of feeling of ascension as Radiohead’s ‘Videotape’, elevating with every loop but never fully reaching it’s hinted perfect cadence
The rest of the album acts as a mesmerising comedown, diving into softer textures and dreamier melodies. The intoxicating ‘Soft Streams’ juxtaposes hazy samples with effervescent, twinkling keys, while the peaceful closer ‘Reflecting Lights’ incorporates ponderous primal drums and delicately ascending synths. The albums end result is both transient and transcendent.
For those familiar with The Field’s earlier work, some of the more familiar moments won’t feel as poignant as they should; the breathy sampling on ‘Pink Sun’ feels overdone, and leaves the track feeling monotonous as it plods along in its latter half. Still, ‘The Follower’ more than justifies its runtime with other tracks. At this point, Axel Willner could let his beats pulse on for eternity and his fans would happily bask in the gorgeous moods created.
‘The Follower’ is out now via Kompakt.
This The Field article was written by Stephen Butchard. Edited by Samantha Melrose.