There is a bold, immediately noticeable change for the forth album from Swedish producer Axel Willner. For his first three records, the artwork was the same – a white/cream background with two scrawled scraps of information. Firstly, his moniker “The Field” and secondly, the album’s title. This time, the white has turned to jet black. While previous albums, including 2011′s remarkable Looping State Of Mind, were sometimes joyous experiences, full of swagger and bounce, Cupid’s Head definitely marks a change for the darker. It’s Willner’s first album with a red lightsaber and it’s a tonality shift that feels natural and necessary.
Album opener ’20 Seconds Of Affection’ is a mid-frequency soup. The only defined sound the punch of a kick drum. It’s a near-ten minute rain cloud, thick sound swirling around you as you take it in. It’s clear from the off that the message of the artwork is deliberate: things are the same, but darker. The genetics are the same as before, with sounds and textures used to create loops, which are built upon and built upon until something new emerges. The only difference is the outcome.
Interestingly, and probably the most fundamental difference between this album and Willner’s previous work is the lack of snare drum. The first snare sound is 8 minutes and 41 seconds into the record’s third track. That’s 26 minutes and 35 seconds of looping, rhythmic “dance” music without a snare snap to release the built up tension. Thus, when it finally arrives during the latter half of ‘Black Sea’ it’s a dam breaking. There’s space to breathe. The snare sound itself is not even particularly full-sounding or ear-grabbing. But it acts like a brief flash of light in the storm.
And so the strength of Cupid’s Head lies not in what it gives but in what it withholds. Tension is built but rarely released. There are vocals, but they are brief and wordless. The album’s loops are full of human touches, but they are manipulated and altered. This is Willner’s fourth album, but the first to be made with only hardware. As a result, the record may have lost his signature dancefloor roots, but they have been replaced by something more organic, natural and more physical.
What is truly special here is that Willner has made an album that will acclimatise itself to your surroundings. If you listen as you walk outside, it’s rhythm will lock in with your footsteps. In a car, it will sync up with the windscreen wipers, with passing traffic. On a train, it will control what flashes by the window, the other passengers’ glances and the gentle sway of the train under your seat. Cupid’s Head will engulf you if you let it.