People (well, music journalists with a certain leaning) went nuts for The Field’s debut album, the wonderfully-titled From Here We Go Sublime, in 2007. But, while I enjoyed its minimalist techno / shoegaze crossover aesthetic, I thought the actual tunes and rhythms were a little one-dimensional, which left me feeling that it was little more than ambient music with a nice steady 4/4 pulse. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it seemed a little incongruous when put into the context of the ‘album of the year’ discourse that surrounded it.
So I wasn’t all that fussed about a follow-up, to be honest. Then I heard that John Stanier of Battles and Helmet was drumming on a track or two, that there were only six songs, that it was filled out with ideas a bit more than the debut… so I investigated.
And I’m super glad I did, because Yesterday & Today is, to my ears, miles better than The Field’s debut in pretty much every way. The rhythms are better, the streaming synths are better, the tunes are better, it’s more emotional, each song has more ideas, the grooves are built and layered more convincingly than before, and the use of actual instruments (principally drums but also guitar, farfisa, vibraphone, bass, and more) adds a whole dimension of texture and interplay that was pretty much absent from the predominantly synth+sample based composition of the debut. We saw The Field play at ATP in 2011, and they were essentially a 3-piece live band playing euphoric krautrock, rather than one guy twiddling knobs and playing hipster house. Yesterday And Today sounds much more like an album by a band than by a solo artist. People who compared the debut to minimal techno were proven stupidly wrong by this lush, maximalist return.
At the end of the title track there’s an increasingly showy drum and bass panorama courtesy of Stanier and Dan Enqvist, and as synths and samples and layers fall away to leave just drums and bass in an unbearably, irresistibly taut coda groove, the track becomes exponentially more compelling. And it was pretty damn good to begin with. I could listen to it all day. Elsewhere Axel Willner, the main guy behind The Field, still uses samples brilliantly; a glimpse of Liz Fraser is looped and stretched hypnotically across “The More That I Do”. There’s also an elongated, almost-straight but still undeniably Field-ised cover of “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime” by The Korgis.
And then there is “Sequenced”, the 16-minute closer, which provides textural and rhythmic variation in spades, and is probably my single favourite piece of music from the whole of 2009. It’s a crazy, repeatedly-peaking quasi-electric kraut jam epic that’s like “Moon Revolutions” or “Mother Sky” or “Soon” or something. Perhaps it’s (what I assume is) John Stanier’s drumming with its beautifully double-tapping swing in the run-in, perhaps it’s the entire beatific final 3 minutes that echo the electronic pastoralism of Sowieso-era Cluster, or perhaps it’s just the sheer size of the monumental groove, but I adore it. It makes me wish this album was called From Here We Go Sublime instead, because it actually does hit transcendent peaks that the debut only hinted at. Willner’s been accused of being a formulaic one-trick pony, and he is, but that’s all he needs to be when the trick is as good as this.