This week, the sun finally cracked through and warmed Michigan a little. I finally rode my bike to work again after months of winter blues. I also helped send off winter by finally watching The Revenant.
I also listened to a lot of great new music. Let’s see what happened:
The Field – The Follower
I’ve been a fan of Axel Willner’s music as The Field for almost a decade now, and even wrote about his groundbreaking debut album near very beginning of this blog. Although his formula – using micro sounds to paint grand minimal techno pictures – hasn’t changed much, it’s matured and refined toward very specific ends. He may have begun as an outlier, coming at techno from a pop sampling perspective, but he’s now working from the very center layers of this most cloistered of genres.
The Follower is another subtle revision of his user-friendly take on minimal techno and, as such, won’t win over anyone who was left cold before. But for fans of the genre, and of The Field himself, are going to revel in this stuff. The man’s remarkable consistency extends beyond his nearly matching album covers and running times (seriously, each release has been within a minute or two of an hour long) to the music itself. He’s never had a bad album and, if you liked his sound before, well, here’s more of it.
While a lot of artists can feel stale after years of perfecting the same style, The Field manages to create a fun game with each release: I pour over the tracks, stretching time and putting my face as close as I can, trying to pick out the micro-details that redefine how it feels, belying the ever-cohesive big picture.
This is techno to work to, drive to, even drift off to. I’ve even been known to dance to this.
Andy Stott – Butterflies
You can read my in-depth piece on this incredible song and video, and what this new sound means for Andy Stott.
If you’re as hyped as me, you can preorder on Boomkat.
Robert Hood – Motor: Nighttime World 3
By the time this album dropped in 2012, Robert Hood could have been comfortably retired, secure in his impeccable legacy as one of techno’s greatest pioneers. From his work with Underground Resistance all the way to today, Hood has been an uncompromising visionary, forcing techno into positions it had never been before, taking listeners way beyond the edges of expectation.
Motor: Nighttime World 3 is the third entry in the series of free jazz-inspired releases that have signposted Hood’s trajectory over the years. The first appeared in 1995, skeletal but wild and soulful, out of place in the contemporary scene. The second, in 2000, fleshed things out a bit, nodding even more heavily to his outsider jazz heroes. Coming another 12 years later, this album is perhaps the pinnacle of Hood’s discography. It’s a series of juxtapositions that work uncomfortably well: lush yet confrontational, dark yet inspiring, autobiographical yet as alien as ever. Over the course of 80 minutes, he combines a thematic narrative about the decline, fall, and possible rebirth of Detroit with some of the most composerly techno productions I’ve ever heard. This is ambitious stuff that’s nonetheless super easy to digest, repeat, and share with friends. I’m kind of embarrassed that I never mentioned it here before.
Here’s the first tune, The Exodos:
Ulu – Space Oddity
For my one slice of non-techno music this week, I’ve got a fun alto sax-led take on David Bowie’s first big song, Space Oddity. While everyone was talking about Michael Stipe’s minimalist take on The Man Who Sold The World (good, but pales in comparison to Nirvana’s famed performance), a friend at work shared this hidden gem with me. It’s a purely instrumental, funk infused take on the classic tune where the saxophone replaces Bowie’s vocals as the lead melody. Appropriate enough, the alto was Bowie’s first instrument, as well as my own.
Thanks for the recommendation, Rob!
So… here are my thoughts. The Revenant, starring heavyweights Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, was very good and very, very different for director Alejandro González Iñárritu. The big picture, one sentence impression is that it blends wide-angle natural wonder with visceral, brutal action. It’s a beautiful but oftentimes gut wrenching film, and not just for the reasons you might expect after watching the trailer.
Yes, there’s an incredibly harrowing bear attack scene you’ve probably heard about. This moment seems to dilate time, just like a violent encounter in real life, with every microsecond stretched out for maximum memory impact. The best part is, it’s not simply a stunt. It’s not even the hardest part of the film to watch, but I’ll say no more to avoid spoilers. I will say, however, that the emotional core of the film hit me much more deeply than any of the on-screen violence.
For his latest creation, Iñárritu seems to have been inspired by the slow, profoundly meditative work of directors Terrence Malick and Andrei Tarkovsky. The action is a massive departure from their respective works, but the painterly vistas, philosophical outlook, and raw emotional core all resonate with the artful heights of these two cinematic heroes. I wrote about Tarkovsky’s own masterpiece Solaris just a few weeks ago, and feel similarly impacted by The Revenant, a film echoing those themes of loss, love, and humanity over 4 decades later.
I should mention that the image at the top of this post is a still frame I grabbed while watching this film. It was so consistently stunning that I ended up with over a dozen shots saved to my computer. That almost never happens.
Here’s the trailer: