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The Field
Yesterday And Today Kev Kharas , June 15th, 2009 12:05

From Here We Go Sublime, Alex Willner's debut full-length shift as The Field, seems in hindsight so heavy with euphoria that it almost manages to burst the memory of itself, recall collapsing at the task of taking it all in. Its title promised eternity — from here to where, who knows, but its plains of tectonic techno stood between the two like a mission, minimal but indisputably vast. The distance stretched out before me during an overnight drive from Liverpool to London, a mirage-bitten journey made with friends in a dying car whose wheels rattled uncontrollably every time we hovered at 60, but were fine a few mph either side of that.

Emerging from the darkest moment of the night came 'Everday', into the kind of blue you only see immediately afterwards. In the seven-minute duration of the song things changed: the rain became silver-sharded future careening magnetically towards us, us in the car, the car our body, our bodies its brain, the brain of the magnet. I wasn't drunk and there were no drugs involved. 'Everday' was the only modifier and even now I can't think of anything in the history of all recorded sound I'd rather have been listening to during those mutated moments.

Return to the record today, however, and you'll find fewer explosions than you remember; or at the very least a scattered succession of smaller, more subtle transitions less spectacular than underwater booms, each the other end of an abnormally long fuse. That's not to say the album doesn't deserve that warm space in your mind's ear — it was, and still is, gut-grapplingly great — but it earned that greatness through its own toil. Ridiculously repetitive, Sublime possessed a work-rate that'd make Stakhanov blush, with its familiar samples — Kate Bush, The Flamingos, Lionel Richie — looped and tied endlessly until they became unrecognisable, hypnotic and exhausted.

New album Yesterday And Today isn't massively different, but it is different — rather than battering brains into submission by arid, minimal softener, the euphoria's present pretty much all the way through, and as such the feeling that you've in some way 'earned' the joy diminishes. Opener 'I Have The Moon, You Have The Internet' offers immediate comfort, absorbing the ears as it gradually rises up from silence, already hyped (in The Field's terms; this isn't Yo Majesty) like it's the eleventh track on a debut album that never stopped playing. When things get more joyful around the two-minute mark, though, it's simply a shift from one happy plateau to another, rather than a burst of ecstasy springing miraculously from sullen industry (as it does on Sublime opener 'Over The Ice' which begins close to 4/4 SND head-pound and ends in the spasmodic fits of disco’s eternal diva). Like I said, it's not a massive difference; but when you’re as prone to repetition as The Field is, the subtlest shifts carry great weight.

Another shift from Willner's 2007 debut to its follow-up is one towards what he’s described as "more organic" instrumentation. Tiring of laptop-based live shows — "it feels pretty nice to not have to hear anyone saying, 'Oh, is he checking his email?'" — Willner’s enlisted the help of a few blood-and-muscle musicians to flesh out the sound, most obviously Battles' drummer John Stanier on the record's title track. At ten minutes, ten seconds long there are two other tracks here that outlast it, but it's still a sprawl. Stanier, of course, is a fantastic drummer and his heart doesn't burst John Henry-style but — returning again to subtlety — it's impossible to expect his playing to match that of a machine for sheer repetitive discipline. Yesterday And Today, its six tracks clocking in at roughly the same hour as Sublime's ten, is characterised by an expansion of everything but the rigour that thrust moments on Willner's debut to heights nothing here quite matches.

Yesterday And Today's relative laxness isn't without its benefits — liberated from the task of justifying their joy, 'I Have The Moon . . .' and the thriving 'Leave It' are free to float off into the stratosphere, both heady and hallucinatory, escapist rushes. Penultimate track 'The More That I Do' takes this to the record’s extreme, sounding for much of its stellar surge like a Field/El Guincho take on the recent Burial/Four Tet collaborative split — Latin carnival rhythms and parroted vocals are there among its many interwoven threads, hammered into infinity, sure to irk those unused to the Swede's repetitious routine.

The record's ultimate track offers a surprise, final song, 'Sequenced', which begins as a ribald flurry of ripped, cuboid synths before flexing out into an extended kraut jam. So often krautrock's motorik beat, with its inhuman stamina and horizontal drive, is associated with the most open of open roads; but the way 'Sequenced' stretches out to touch everything within eyeshot feels too greedy for The Field, synths swirling up in Technicolor, percussion doing whatever the hell it likes, the primary beat too pedestrian, too chilled. When I consider the effect 'Everday' had on my own rain-beaten car journey, the way it made us magnets and the centre of everything with its unremittingly terse, creeping waves, it feels a shame to have this roadworthy but slightly bloated version to contend with in the memory. It's as if those devoted cells have been expanded and are no longer tight, no longer so devoted, no longer perpetually on the bounds of bursting like the tyres of a rattling car held together only by its component parts' desire to speed true and onwards until the light changes for the better.

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