Music Reviews
Cupid's Head

The Field Cupid's Head

(Kompakt) Rating - 8/10

With each release, Axel Willner approaches a blank canvas with confidence in the end result without concerning himself with the process. He lets the rational norms of creating dictate the outcome, albeit with some workmanlike precision, hoping that it eventually manifests some kind of meaning. There’s never any discussions about subject matter except for how little we can interpret from the titles of each of his full-lengths - the emotional effect of reaching the divine in From Here We Go Sublime, how the present invariably becomes the past in Yesterday and Today, and the dizzying effects of repetition in Looping State of Mind. Without describing much into words, his ambient excursions are a vehicle for an experience that takes life as we become aware of its limitations, driven by a very individualized perception of space, motion, and shape. 

As soon as we notice that Willner has completely sullied the white backgrounds of his previous covers with a ubiquitous shade of black, it immediately incites a sensation of great apprehension. While they’re all expressed with that of a proverbial wisdom, there’s something unintentionally eerie about naming his fourth effort Cupid’s Head. Mainly because of how it’s oddly constructed; notice how he focuses on the head of Cupid instead of making reference of him. Instead of portraying Cupid as a source of power for the unrequited, it made me imagine the unfortunate denouement of a cherubic angel who may have shot the wrong way. And that’s as far as you can read into Willner’s latest, which demands a chance for re-evaluation due to its drastic change in presentation. He’s gradually gained a reputation to regurgitate past commodities, one who is too engulfed in the minimal and finely focused. But just like he did with his exquisite Loops of Your Heart project, he intends to part from his usual patterns in favor of testing new options.

The unconvinced will remain so, since Cupid’s Head retains a notion of formalism that will only reward those who listen closely, as it makes subtle changes outside of its rigid formations. The jarring apocalyptic groove of They Won’t See Me is charged with an urgency that, in the surface, boasts a dancefloor-filling beat, but its muffled drones reflect his recent affection for the pitch-back cosmic oscillations of German electronic music traditions. It reveals a darker underpinning than the usual but it’s just as propulsive, and Black Sea clears those vaporous clouds for the first two thirds of its eleven minutes before it reverts to a smutty synth groove that’s leagues away from the gleaming backdrops found in Sublime. These soft/violent transitions hit throughout the album in unpredictable bursts, and in locking them in a steadfast speed, still maintain that unvarying aesthetic approach.

Having recorded Cupid’s Head entirely with analogue gear gives it a warmer, richer sound, and in cutting an over reliance to chop every single detail, makes for perhaps his most organic effort to date. Willner usually makes his compositions sound bright and voluminous, but they never usually take off as a whole due to the fragmented transitions that come along the way. There’s more of a big picture mentality at hand this time around, since it progressively turns grander without resorting to any pitch-shifting trickery. The title track just sounds huge - the bass thumping title track contorts to the accompaniment of clicked, mechanical hi-hat times and its gravely esoteric vocals. But after A Guided Tour scurries with a dark, nervous energy, its spacial synths marred in a thick, dense layer of gaseous drone, he takes a turn for the abstract. 

Once it reaches the final third, Willner aims at a kind of industrialized utopia that takes a nihilistic form. All the usual elements in his work are absent, some if which were hardly even detectable in the previous tracks to begin with - the percussive drips and drops are gone, any further attempt at a 4/4 beat is extracted to that of a single, hollow bass tone, and the vocal snippets are now gasping for a last breath. There’s now an all-around mercurial tension that surrounds Cupid’s Head, yet it rarely sounds weary or dispassionate. Even through all the morass, a vague optimism seems to always seep through; he plays with our senses, waiting for that final act to pull a disappearing act that can leave one utterly spellbound. Willner may be a creature of habit, but he always finds a way to rebel against his own conventions. His self-contained multiforms are as pompous as they are intimate, presented with a compelling clarity yet demanding the input of one's own imagination.