The Field released “From Here We Go Sublime” on March 27, 2007. In the 10 years since its release, I have spent enough time listening to it that I consider it a best friend.
Albums can be like friends. You meet a new one and enjoy a few great years then lose touch. The memories remain fond. Some friends you meet and know you will do whatever it takes to spend the rest of your life with them. Simply meeting them begs the question of how you ever got by without them. They create a hole in your life and their absence is always noticed. The Field created a “From Here We Go Sublime” sized hole in my heart 10 years ago and my life has been all the better for it.
Axel Willner, the sole artist behind The Field, flips the switch and “From Here We Go Sublime” whirs to a start. His style is instantly defined by its repetitive bass kicks and phasing samples. Though it took me years to even bother learning what samples are used on this album, they are important to recognize. Kate Bush is the first sample used followed by a mixture of Lionel Richie, Fleetwood Mac, Coldplay, Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen (an artist he would later sample to greater success in 2011 with “Burned Out”), and many others that perhaps remain a mystery before closing, famously, with The Flamingos. You would not be at fault if the first time you heard this album none of those names jump to mind. How Willner mines these artists for microseconds of bliss and loops them over and over until the listener is lulled into a calm that then allows for reverbed voices crying in voweled echoes.
Listening to The Field is similar to staring at a Magic Eye picture. At first it looks like a mixed blur of colors and tiny dots speckled across a large surface. But when you relax your eyes, the three-dimensional image appears. As with The Field, a cursory listen won’t even scratch the surface of these compositions. Relaxing your ears and focusing on one element will reveal how all the other small portions rhythmically oscillate around each other, forming a harmonic whole.
The most common complaint about The Field is that it’s the same loop over and over. Of course this is only partly true, because the loops all lead to a break. Those breaks are scattered all over the album, and when they happen, you realize the loops were not monotonous, but actually building to something. Nearly two minutes into opening track “Over the Ice” the beat tightens in on itself and opens up with Kate Bush’s fractured vocals entering the picture. A similar approach is used on “Everyday” where it takes more than two minutes before the loop practically rewinds itself before unleashing some Stevie Nicks vocal chops.
“From Here We Go Sublime” is the only album by The Field that contains songs that are consistently shorter than seven minutes. The primary exception being “The Deal” and one listen quickly explains why The Field shifted to producing longer songs from 2007 onward. “The Deal” is located in the back half of the album and is noticeably softer than the louder bass hits of the album’s first half. The low-end sounds as though the moment the drum pedal hits the bass drum, the drum skin turns to vapor (coincidentally, the chemical process of a solid transforming directly into the gas phase is referred to as sublimation). Once again, after more than six minutes of the soft rhythmic pulse and the distance vocal coo’s, one of the sounds floating around the track lifts up and hits a high pitch squeel. It instantly settles back down and never returns for the remaining three minutes.
These brief moments act as a reflection on life itself. Life is often a routine chore with sporadic moments of beauty. When these rare and excellent life moments occur, it’s easy to look back on the days leading up to it as boring or mundane. Except when life tips the scales into the negative, and we realize those routine days should have been cherished.
The Field has always been about building on that routine to yield grandiose highs. But only on “From Here We Go Sublime” does he demonstrate the opposite end of the spectrum. Near the end of the album, early single “Sun & Ice” doubles down on the softer side “The Deal” paved, but something is amiss. According to a 2007 interview by the other site, Willner reveals the computer overloaded and the sound you hear nearly five minutes in is the whole song falling apart. Clearly one post edit is made to get the song back on track, but it fades out shortly after this accident.
Even though it wasn’t intentional, the emotional effect triggered by the “Sun & Ice” overload is undeniable. When a listener is eight songs into an album of pleasant loops, it’s easy to take the basic elements for granted. Like Kanye said, “they claim you never know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” When “Sun & Ice” peters out to silence mid-track, the listener realizes how grand this album truly is because of an accidental absence placed within the album. It also works as a terrific set-up to the penultimate track, alerting the listener the end is coming (in case “Good Things End” on track three wasn’t enough of an indication).
Without any lyrics, deeper meaning can be derived from the album’s titles. “From Here We Go Sublime” can be interpreted as travelling from a starting point to a desired destination, sort of like a road trip. The “we” is important as it implies Willner will be joining us on the trip to a promised sublime state. The first half of the journey is solid and rough while the back half feels so ethereal you could roll down the windows and breathe in the songs. With great intention, the album closes with the title track. It’s like a road sign stating your destination is only a few more miles away. As “From Here We Go Sublime” nears its end, The Field’s whole aesthetic is revealed like the curtain being pulled back in The Wizard of Oz. Willner instantly contrasts his style with the samples he’s using (“I Only Have Eyes For You” by The Flamingos in this climactic case). The exponentially slowed down finish feels like Willner is wringing tears from my eyes like water from a saturated sponge. This revelation was profound enough to me that it kept me returning to this album for 10 years straight. Every time I hear it, it feels like I’m being welcomed home by my best friend.