As with many musical methodologies grounded in repetition, what at first is tedious in The Field’s material has usually proved more rewarding with a focus hazed over the tapestry as a gradual whole, rather than preoccupied with seeming monotony of detail. Neither samey (apart from the really boring ones) nor elegant quite enough to enter or leave at any time, Axel Willner’s tunes, including those comprising this latest offering, are best enjoyed from start to finish. Syrupy, jerkily-looped motifs pop away with attack enveloped at zero, while moody designs swell and recede around them; this is The Field’s default approach, a style which has won him substantial acclaim. Lengthy and sluggish, most of the seven tracks on Looping State of Mind take this airy style of techno up to yet lighter levels; the dance floor is further away if anywhere, and label Kompakt - esteemed purveyor of endlessly-reformatted techno and disco - remains the suitable vantage point.
Looping State of Mind continues the technique adopted in its immediate predecessor Yesterday & Today of melding characteristically lush electronic elements with live instrumentation, predominantly guitar, bass and drums. It’s a nice idea that allowed for more muscular textures than those encountered on debut From Here We Go Sublime, and was most successful when transmitting the basic pleasures of live musicianship. On ‘Leave It’, arguably still The Field’s greatest track, Dan Enqvist’s relaxed, lithe fret-roaming of electric rather than electronic bass obtains such a compelling and embodied groove in context. An ordinary bass line exquisitely suited to that which it drives.
It’s pleasing that something similar is going on in Looping State of Mind as early as the opener ‘Is This Power’, where a moodier and more angular bass meanders over a wet synth set. Ever fond of those nimble and punchy live-hybridised-with-programmed drum textures, Willner maintains a full-bodied and dense sound throughout. Pieces such as ‘Burned Out’ and ‘Arpeggiated Love’ recall some of the more phlegmatic moments of From Here We Go Sublime, with a more sophisticated sense of development. There’s a balance that seems to keep at bay the waiting threat of krautrock jams; more pressing is definitely the issue of giving a name like ‘Arpeggiated Love’ to a composition.
There are off-moments that do matter though, such as ‘Then It’s White’. Populous as it is with accompanying details including a lovely set of chimes and a strangely weightless, spindly kick drum, the languid tone – set and maintained by a plodding piano phrase – grows tedious well before the eight minutes are up, and the pitched-down vocals are annoying, lacking even the vaguely atmospheric charm of the Amy Winehouse sample on ‘Arpeggiated Love’. The album’s title tune is loud and bright with a solid beat, but doesn’t really excite. The concluding track ‘Sweet Slow Baby’ (Axel, we need to talk. It’s about your titles…) is remarkably Gas-like in nebulous style and protracted length, bearing more than a passing resemblance to the last number on Köningsforst. The diversions from this homage are the substantially more mechanical and less dense fabric, as well as additional distant vocal textures; apparently Willner has trouble resisting them these days. I wouldn’t have wanted the track simply to ape Gas without idiosyncratic touches – the bass and roving drones are fine – but the bleating song takes away much more than it gives to the rich bulk of tumbling shapes.
It’s easier to ignore or forget pieces Willner has otherwise competently built around unattractive hooks than those he would otherwise masterfully have pulled off were it not for certain ill-advised indulgences – pitfalls that have each dogged him from time to time since the beginning. On Looping State of Mind both are here and there, as ever, but it is as enjoyable an overall work as anything else we’ve heard from him.