Adding to his growing list of aliases, Swedish electronic polymath Axel 'The Field' Willner's latest project marks the début of yet another nom de plume, HANDS, a move towards more desolate musical territory than we've seen from him in the past. It's a shift which eschews the acute euphoria and minimalist percussion of his most lauded work, in favour of gloomy and dense mesmeric drones.
If you've followed Willner's career of late, then this change in tone might not come as too much of a surprise. His fourth album as The Field, 2013's Cupid's Head took a darker approach to his usually ebullient techno; a simmering bellicosity lying just beneath the surface of the vibrant, skittering loops. The result was a refreshing take on his beatific sound, one that infused it with overcast atmospherics and gave new depths to an already successful formula. It's interesting to note that The Soul Is Quick was recorded in the spring of 2012 - before Cupid's Head - rendering it a thematic prequel, and elevating it from interesting experimental side-project, to something which is already finding influence across his work.
All the tracks on The Soul Is Quick share the same name, that of a Berlin sanatorium and tuberculosis clinic - 'Beelitz-Heilstätten'. And much like the monochrome monolith that this title evokes, the four songs lean towards densely imposing textures, as washes of ambient drone and churning industrial rhythms modulate to queasy effect over the LP's 40-minute running time. Occasionally, astral melodies, serpentine rattles or even sampled recordings of protest marches will rise out of the gloom like an eerie light, their warmth then drowned out by deafening squeals of noise ('PT6'), or disintegrated by distant chords ('PT7') which subsume them in a synth whiteout. In other moments of cinematic flourish, samples of whispered dialogue enigmatically punctuate the blanket of noise - too obtuse to decipher yet distinct enough to intrigue. But before you catch what's been said - whether it's a cry for help ('PT11') or a distant warning ('PT10') - the voices collapse into a throb of darkness.
The Soul Is Quick is the sound of versatile talent who could easily rest on his laurels continuing to grow and evolve. Falling somewhere between Haxan Cloak and Blanck Mass, it never quite reaches the nightmarish mastery of former or the rhythmic expansion of the latter, but is absorbing enough to reward repeated exploration across its own uniquely foreboding landscape.
7Tom Fenwick's Score