When Axel Willner, aka The Field, released his debut album From Here We Go Sublime, it came as a surprise to him that the minimal techno sound would become such a critical hit. It didn’t sound like other techno out there, so any success it did receive was probably a bonus because that wasn’t the driving force of his creativity. Willner was able to follow up with two more successful albums, using the formula of “no formula”. It’s a fun but dangerous game to play as an artist, because you’re always having to challenge yourself which can be quite satisfying, but with no set blueprint or ideas it’s hard to just set down to work. Willner felt this awkwardness as he began work on his newest album which eventually Willner was able to produce a new and unique sound, but Cupid’s Head while at times stirring, fails to capture the imagination quite like his previous outings.
The album opens up with an aptly titled “A Guided Tour”. Its soft beats and mellow loops start this guided tour of the album off with a daydream like trance. It lulls very steadily over eight minutes which feels maybe a tad long, but it will foreshadow the choices that will be made later in the album. “The Black Sea” follows up with an almost twelve minute opus, that for the most part is an organic extension of the first track, it’s not until the seven minute mark of the song though that things take a darker shift from the light upbeat tones. Harder beats get introduced for the first time, and an ominous vocal sample is heard that feels very sexual in nature. This is the black sea we’re talking about here in context to album title Cupid’s Head, I think you see what he’s going for here. The title track “Cupid’s Head” marks the start of the interesting part of the album, it’s the shortest track which might be a clue here as to what really works on this album, the vocal sample is delightfully ambiguous and it’s meandering repetitiveness actually creates a sense of wonder and wandering emotion. “No, No…” is the best track on the album, and is sort of a throwback to the ambient trance of the late 90’s early 2000’s. It’s very cinematic in it’s scope, and the repeating “no’s” can be devastating and thrilling, although again, the track is just a tad too long for my liking. “They Won’t See Me” starts promisingly enough with a cool beat, and an interesting loop, but it’s another 9 minute track that never really takes off. The most glaring of the misses is the final track “20 Seconds of Affection” which has a very ambiguous synth loop that just keeps going. It’s very inorganic sounding, and never once do you forget that you’re listening to manufactured sounds which I always find is the goal to not do when you’re listening to this type of ambient techno. At times listening to this last track I zoned out like you might normally do in this genre, but it didn’t take me any place interesting, I literally just forgot I was listening to anything.
Despite a few of the tracks that don’t work, there’s a couple that really do. The Field has been an interesting artist that has given us some cool stuff to listen to over the years, and this album certainly has some great moments. Some edits or remixes of these tracks might bring some life to these recordings, because at this point listening to this album, coming from a musician at the top of his genre, it comes off very cold and ineffectual. It may have been his intention to create something lost and distant, and while a times it does, it doesn’t quite work as a whole.
– Michael Unger