Music Reviews
Looping State of Mind

The Field Looping State of Mind

(Kompakt) Rating - 8/10

The Field is a quite surprising critical darling of the European minimal techno scene, probably the most successful artist associated with Kompakt records. It might be difficult at first to recognise why Axel Willner above his peers has garnered so much attention among hipsters, because of the repetitive and seemingly undemanding nature of this genre of music – but The Field does so much more than the term “minimal techno” implies.

You can listen to Looping State of Mind in two ways. The first is purely functional, which is the way I usually listen to music like this; it’s perfect background music by which to read or write essays, to get work done. It’s unobtrusive but avoids being mind-numbing, somehow; it’s just so friggin’ listenable it’s difficult to ever get bored of it, provided your state of mind is looping enough for this type of thing.

What makes it so perfectly-suited to its function as background music is revealed in the second way of listening, which is just to immerse yourself in it, to explore these textures; this approach, so rarely for a minimal techno full-length, is rewarding and fascinating. There’s a fractal quality to Willner’s production, by which I mean you can focus in on one sonic thread and lose yourself in the dozens of others it reveals – there’s always more than meets the ear. It sounds very repetitive on a cursory listen, but delve further and you realise that what your mind loves about this music is how it’s actually shifting, constantly refreshing itself, layers of sound drifting in and out almost imperceptibly.

To pin down what it is that makes The Field special, it’s his masterful subtlety. He’ll introduce a new percussive syncopation or vocal manipulation so steadily and softly that you might not even notice what it is that’s making the track change, whereas a lesser producer might want to stick this new sonic layer at the forefront of the mix so as nobody misses it. Take It’s Up There: it indulges in hazy, amorphous ambience, shifting kaleidoscopically - until the six minute mark, where it becomes clear that The Field is equally adept at the most well-judged of left turns, as the beat suddenly drops and the song ends up a minimalist emulation of funk-band rhythm section.

Sub-vocal strains of sound run throughout the album, hanging like syllable beads on Burned Out, like disembodied soul singers on Arpeggiated Love, and vaguely distressed female moans are placated by a nasal male echo on Then It’s White. Often, the beginnings of tracks feel disconcerting – from the dissonance of opener Is This Power to the uncomfortable 7/4 shuffle of final track Sweet Slow Baby – but by the end of each one, everything somehow feels natural. Looping State of Mind is very human despite forming no coherent words – again The Field defies the stereotypes of his genre.

There’s nothing here with quite the same catchiness that The Field somehow achieved on the head-nodders A Paw In My Face or The More That I Do, but each track is a fascinating experiment in sound, and this is perhaps his strongest record yet.