Now on his fourth album, Sweden’s Axel Willner, aka The Field, occupies a unique niche in electronic music. He’s signed to techno label Kompakt, but his sound is informed as much by rock — the ear-bending, sensual feedback of My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus and Mary Chain, for instance — as electronic music; the only thing missing are lyrics, though his songs are full of carefully textured vocal samples.
Cupid’s Head continues Willner’s exploration of the fertile common ground between shoegaze and the wide-open spaces of Manuel Göttsching, or the post-acid house Wild Pitch mixes from Chicago’s DJ Pierre. Pierre, in a way, provides Willner’s template, with his layers of subtle keyboard sounds, treated vocals and percussion, the overall effect being an ever-ascending aural illusion of spiralling sounds. Willner’s samples, however, are microcosmic, sometimes less than a bar in length, and they stack up to provoke a sense of dizzying abandon and release.
On “Black Sea,” Willner creates an unrelenting pulse out of a wheezing latticework keyboards, glued together by kick drum and a jagged bassline. The harshly-affected female vocal sounds simultaneously angelic, triumphant and pleading on “No. No…,” with the visceral church organ — hellish rather than heavenly — adding to the assembly-line percussion to create music that is truly unsettling.
While remaining anchored to the traditional house tropes — kick-drum, hi-hats, snare drum, bass — Willner has built a baroque, 21st-century aesthetic. This is house music, alright, but for the ears, not the body.