Though this is probably not what Axel Willner had in mind when he retired to the Swedish countryside to record this album, Yesterday & Today is absolutely baby-makin' music. For those of you who have been reaching for the Teddy Pendegrass all these long years, Willner's brand of ambient-trance-techno-whatever probably sounds like an inappropriate soundtrack for your carnal fumblings, but consider the album. Yesterday & Today is gorgeous, overwhelming, lush and (mainly) wordless, and it reeks throughout of inarticulable emotion.
Of course Willner's compositions still have a significantly Scandinavian, glacial feel to them, but the ice has thawed considerably since 2007's From Here We Go Sublime. As a result, the tracks on Yesterday have a fuller, more atmospheric sound. While Sublime was certainly that -- sublime -- that album often relied on a more minimal texture to move its tracks along. The songs on Yesterday are a lot busier, but not so cluttered that their elements detract from the restless beauty of the Field's creation. It's evident all over the album that Willner has upped the ambience, and it's clearly an improvement.
In addition to aurally super-sizing the content of each track, Yesterday & Today also lets them spread their legs: The entire album contains an hour's worth of audio in six tracks, and it's only four minutes shorter than From Here We Go Sublime. This increase in length is probably indicative of the fact that the songs on Yesterday are a little more dance-friendly than the ones on Sublime; the greatest part of Willner's brilliance is either the fact that he took the awful stigma of kitsch out of trance music and made it something that you can admit to liking without a trace of guilt, or that he's tricked a number of people into thinking that they can dance to ambient techno.
The other big change that Willner made on this album is the inclusion of drummers on two tracks: "Yesterday and Today" and album closer "Sequenced." Both of those tracks aren't outright favorites and aren't as obviously melodic as the other four songs on record, but they're definitely neat tricks from an artist whose work has been entirely electronic, and they're absolutely compelling.
Possibly the most amazing thing about the Field is his ability to make songs into something else entirely. "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime" is definitely more of a cover or a remix than an original track, but if you've heard the Korgis version you haven't at all heard the Field's. In the album's first advance track, "The More That I Do," it's a really lovely moment when the Cocteau Twins sample from "Lorelei" shines through the haze, and you realize that Willner has taken the mangled corpse of an already transcendent, glorious track and made it into something propulsive and restless without destroying those qualities that made it lovely to begin with.
I'm gushing, I know, but listening to something as lovely and effusive as this album on repeat can only inspire those same qualities in those fortunate enough to hear. That having been said, consider Yesterday and Today for your next indiscretion.
Kompakt, the label of Axel Willner (aka The Field) says on its website that Yesterday & Today will be "a more organic record than its predecessor." That's pretty ambiguous language, especially since the term "organic" has come to mean a whole host of things when describing electronic music. That "organic" might be referring to the presence of Battles drummer John Stanier, who's hammering intensity certainly isn't electronic. Willner's devotion to blissed-out, hazy, electronic wonderment is well-noted, so fans probably shouldn't be too worried.