The Field: Pop-Ambient Perfection
- Words: Ken Taylor
Despite his penchant for crafting hazy, atmospheric suites of ambient techno, The Field's sole member, Axel Willner (who also records as Cordouan and Lars Blek), is a pop music specialist. His debut LP, From Here We Go Sublime (Kompakt), is a 10-track interpretation of pop's past, with major-label samples painstakingly edited for maximum dancefloor efficiency and minimum recognizability. Even when he won't admit it, the Stockholm native knows his stuff, musically. Sure, he's entrenched in the Swedish techno scene, but does he dig on the country's finest pop singers like Jens Lekman and Sondre Lerche? "Sondre is from Norway," he's quick to point out, "and the music I like most from there is all the black metal stuff." Touché.
To tease out the greatest moments of pop music's history, Willner looks to the classics. "I probably think that men singing in a painful falsetto can be some of the finest," he notes. If '80s R&B/pop comes to mind, you're in the right ballpark: "A Paw In My Face," a glistening techno track that plods along on a tight 4/4 beat daubed with triggered guitar strums, playfully makes incisions to the breakdown from Lionel Richie's "Hello," but you wouldn't know it until the punchline at the song's end.
Sometimes the samples are obvious (the title track's skipping, churning snippet of The Flamingos' "I Only Have Eyes for You"); sometimes they're not ("Over the Ice" borrows quietly from Kate Bush). Regardless, Willner snickers at the thought of legal clearances and is mum about my guesses on what's been creatively appropriated. "One guy thought The Four Tops' "[Reach Out] I'll Be There" was something by Donna Summer," he says, referring to a sample used on "Thought Vs. Action" (from an earlier EP).
It's a particularly tricky process but Willner, aided by his punk-rock background, is mindful of his digital music's very human facets. He strives for an element of fallibility that goes beyond setting drum hits ever-so-slightly off their Pro Tools grid. On the track "Sun & Ice," Willner's system overloads with delay effects and crashes; he happily rides out the storm, the sound crumpling under its own weight and eventually dropping out entirely before returning directly on-beat. (In an interview with Pitchfork Media, he claimed that all of his songs are mixed live to two channels, and that he leaves in most mistakes.)
But as any pop aficionado will tell you, it's not the technicalities that make a song stick–it's the emotions behind it. "When I'm in a certain mood, when I have a lot of things to sort out, I might hear an old track that I want to use," says Willner. "[I'll use] both the sample and my feeling that I got from it."
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