When critical darling The Field released Looping State of Mind late last year, it couldn’t help but feel like a bittersweet occasion. It was another strong offering from an artist that has yet to do any wrong, but despite its successes, Looping State of Mind affirmed that Axel Willner’s wholly original approach to electronic music was beginning to become a bit familiar. The electronic genre has always had a tendency to produce artists that stay within one musical aesthetic throughout their entire careers, but for an artist as unique as Willner, this trend felt like something The Field had the capacity to avoid. As it turns out, Willner did have that ability within him – just not as The Field, but as an entire other entity. Loops of Your Heart’s debut album, And Never Ending Nights, retains Axel Willner’s unique sense of musical beauty and meticulous attention to detail while sounding virtually nothing like his work as The Field. Much more than a minor detour, it’s a fairly drastic reinvention – with everything from the album’s artwork to its atmosphere signaling a radical shift in approach. For those that fell in love with The Field for his ability to capture sounds almost ethereal in tone, be prepared: this is a much darker affair.
There is a deep sense of unease running throughout And Never Ending Nights‘ nine tracks – a persistent electronic drone that is as equally dreamlike as it is unnerving. But unlike the sort of unabashed darkness found within the work of electronic acts such as Massive Attack or Portishead, And Never Ending Nights gets under your skin in a much subtler way. There is a strong sense of both loss and panic within tracks such as opener “Little You, You Should Develop” and “Lost in the Mirror” that is difficult to pinpoint through any one note. Just like the sense of dread that can set in every so often when it’s too quiet or when you’ve been in an empty home for too long, And Never Ending Nights manages to feel quietly threatening without any sort of identifiable source of danger. In essence, Willner’s approach to creating this atmosphere never hinges on the sounds themselves, but instead on how those sounds exist together.
It’s an atmosphere that inspires emotion in the same intangible-yet-undeniable way as Willner’s work as The Field does. Here, Willner works within a space that is far less grand, but in no way less powerful. Whereas The Field reached toward the heavens in tracks such as From Here We Go Sublime’s “The Deal,” Loops of Your Heart finds Willner focusing on crafting soundscapes that crawl as opposed to soar. Second cut “Broken Bow” is the strongest example of this change in approach – a combination of slowly intensifying electronic drone is coupled with a jagged guitar line to create a track that is both ominous and relentlessly invasive. Willner works within this sort of tonal space throughout the entirety of the record – presenting tracks that often provide an initial sense of security only to slowly unveil their sinister nature. Even in the few instances that Willner offers lighter fare, such as on the sleepy “Cries,” there is an unshakable feeling of deception – as if the song’s thick haze only serves to mask a threat that is slowly closing in.
But to only apply one label to And Never Ending Nights‘ musical atmosphere is doing it a great disservice – in fact – it is the often ambiguous and constantly-transforming nature of the album’s atmospheric tone that is its greatest triumph. Much like the works of Boards of Canada, what Willner crafts here can be seen as surreal, scary, threatening, or beautiful – and more often than not, those interpretations move back and forth the more the album is revisited. Willner never points us in any one direction, taking care to make sure each and every track suggests but never fully reveals its true intentions. For an artist that’s made his name on such a distinct sound, it’s impressive that Willner manages to capture this wholly different musical world with such masterful precision. It’s the beginning of something that is very promising – a surprise reinvention from an artist many had assumed they’d already figured out.