Monday, 26 December 2011

Autechre 2010: 28th Century Music Now

The following are two reviews I composed for Autechre's last two album releases, initially posted over at discogs (along with quite a few more about other artists and albums).  

A belated Merry Christmas, and happy new year, to you for reading. :)   Here's to a productive 2012.


After pandering to the pseudo-intellectual cretins in their fan-base for the last 10 bloody years, Autechre have FINALLY written an album that is listenable. Because, on Oversteps, they are writing melodies again. And they're really fucking good ones at times. Gone, thankfully, also are the endless cockwaving drum/glitch bollocks of Draft and Untilted. And most of the tunes on Oversteps sound like fully fleshed ideas, not experiments in collage a-la Quaristice.

Oversteps sounds like a natural continuation of EP7 only with even more complex drum rhythms (thankfully not the headache-inducing pummeling fanboy-wank that is LCC and the like) and pristine production: the FM sounds cleaner and crisper. The rhythms are more intriguing, and the melodies they employ here are developed to a far greater degree than even the best LP5 or EP7 had to offer. I'm hearing shades of Tangerine Dream, Telex, Vangelis, and Moskwa TV in this album, so that's a pretty good start. Oh, and it's not MINIMAL either, thankfully.

Ilanders is effectively Robot-Jazz. Its "structure" is little more than that of a trad-jazz jam, opening and closing with the main theme and exploring it from every angle in between. I'm no jazz fan, but the idea is sound. The underlying rhythm is some concotion of electro crossed with breaks and hip-hop. The roiling pads underneath the crunchy FM drums and plinking melodies are a welcome return after the last 10 years. Proof that Sean and Rob can write them!

Treale is where they take the whole "reform, redevelop, destroy, then reform again" ethic on their melodies about as far as they ever have. This is 100% composition right here, computer-aided or not. I find it hits my personal "melodic threshold" at times, like a lot of jazz tunes tend to, but I would still have the interlocking FM tones of Treale than ANY of the 7+ minute drum wank exercises of Confield, Draft or Untilted. Nice that they stick to a fairly simple hip-hop/big-beat style rhythm and let the synths "be complex" for a change. Well done, lads!

Known(1) is a mess. Oversteps is - on every other track - a brooding aural dystopia, somewhat meditative and atmospheric with the bare hint of malignancy, but Known(1) is totally at odds with this vibe, coming across more as a twisted EP7 outtake with extra-trashy FM tweaking thrown in. They over-do the out-of-tuned'ness on this one. Thankfully it's the only track that is sub-par.

See On See is just arpeggiated bliss, with a bass-line continuously morphing underneath some lovely higher-octave tones. Call it a requiem, it's beautiful. I haven't said that about an Autechre song since Drane! Os veix3 and O=0 contain some of the most emotionally resonant and melancholic melodic phrases I've heard from Ae, as well as some fascinating key changes in the latter. st epreo has a less distinct hook than other tunes, and is more drum-focused, but it doesn't fall into the Untilted trap of endless clatter. d-sho qub has an infectious, slightly-shuffled "fast hip-hop" rhythm and it's hard not to love those hugely satisfying, crunchy snares blasting away under more very memorable synth lines, coming across "happier" here (love the way it devolves into vocal choruses, too!). The album finishes on the more minimalistically-composed Yuop, which gradually develops into lots of noisy pads and synth "wibbles". It works well as a closer.

As an aside, I find it hilarious that some people complain that there's been some blatant use of plugin patches from Tassman and Reaktor. If this is true, so what? Ae love FM, and if it works, just fucking use it. I can't be the only one that's lived through the naughties' endless sound exploration and gradual detachment from conventional composition techniques (ANYTHING from Mille Plateaux Records, for example), and find that 90% of it is barely interesting for a few listens, then just gets boring. It may be "exploring new sonic frontiers", but ultimately, focusing upon sound creation and texture as opposed to melody, often leaves you with music that is forgettable, for-occasion, aural wallpaper. That is never a problem on Oversteps.

Sean and Rob do a FAR better job of exploring melancholic, detached alienation on Oversteps using MELODIES than they do pissing about with drums and stepping on Venetian Snares' toes (Draft, Untilted, Confield). If you have any interest in challenging electronic music, you want to hear this. If you like Ae but found their previous albums lacking for any reason, believe me: you must hear this. If you spooge copiously over FM synthesis, then I'm surprised you're reading this and not listening to the bloody thing already. If you'd like to hear the "genre" of IDM broken and completely destroyed, well that's probably some personal issues you might need to work out, but don't let that stop you from trying Oversteps. Heck, I'm no "fan" of Autechre OR IDM, and I've fallen completely in love with this album. It's hard to at first, this is Autechre, not Arovane (who, melodically, came across as more of a romantic) but this is Sean and Rob showing their 100% robotic, programmed, circuit-driven souls. And I wouldn't want it any other way. Not perfect - ditch Known(1) - but bloody close. 10/10.

P.S. Oversteps makes for a superb alternative soundtrack to System Shock. :)

Move Of Ten

Move Of Ten has put to rest fears that Autechre were committed to the high-functioning-autistic-beats of their mid-naughties records, they're now following a more melodic and textural direction, at least for now. Though you wouldn't think it on first listen, MOT is bookended by two pieces that are little more than designed to "please the fans": Etchogon-S and Cep puiqMX.

Etchogon has a pretty standard - by Ae "standards" - glitch-hop-on-smack rhythm, occasionally allowing in some prickly synth bleeps that never really form a solid hook. The drums, bass and synths develop and fall away in typical "pseudo-random" Autechre fashion. With Cep puiqMX, the story is very similar: noisey glitched beats, punctuated by vacuous, reverb-plastered single-chord synth blasts. It's the usual LCC-style near-self-parodying concoction of endlessly glitched beats and almost nothing melodic. Both tracks will induce major hard-ons in elitists and IDM producers but thankfully, that isn't the case with the rest of the EP.

nth Dafuseder.b is one of the big hitters on Move Of Ten. After the initial shock of the shameless stealing of d-sho qub's drum patterns, cool little repeated "rhodes" style keys play while drenched in reverb, and the occasional appearance of a BOC-ish "flute" synth plays some surprisingly twee melodies. Shocking, Ae are clearly going soft! OMGWTFBBQ tehy stol BOC-synths! (Note how it makes for a better "BOC tune" than anything on Campfire Headphase... CONSPIRACY!)

no border switches between almost-4/4 and some amalgam of big-beat and dubstep, bursts of noise produce the rhythmic backing to more distant, emotive FM pads and stabs. Not as sucessful as similar pieces on Oversteps, but that dark, emotionally-detached feeling prevails and is still enticing. pce freeze 2.8i has a truly addictive "electro-big-beat" rhythm, with huge drums underpinning a properly solid filter-shaped synth hook that continues to morph, occasionally descending into noise. The spontaneous clickery of the end with one final shout of the riff is a great way to conclude.

4/4 Autechre is good. y7 has a melange of dark synthery around that incessant 4/4 pulse. Oh and two words: AUTECHRE ACID! There's definitely a kinda-303 synth part squelching away here and there. No, there's no hook, but I'm not looking for one when everything else in the track makes up for a great "electronic jam". Later they drop the bomb that is M62. Wow, is this Ae really doing 4/4 again? Sell-outs! Okay now the fanbois have gone crying, let's enjoy some ae-trance! Put the usual multi-layered FM synth stabs and pads to the most basic of electronic rhythms, and it is just as enjoyable as glitch-hop, hip-step, or whatever you'd call Ae's more "traditional" rhythms. It's another dark synth and texture jam across 6 minutes, with continuously morphing synths, joined later by some pads. Then around the 4th minute it all breaks down to the kick and one synth, and stays more "minimalistic" until the end. Pretty simple structurally - by Ae standards - but completely enjoyable and accessible! Yes, Ae fanboys, I just used the word "accessible" again in an Autechre review! Punch that disagree button with all your elitist, self-righteous might!

iris was a pupil is solid evidence that these tracks are taken from Oversteps sessions. It has very similar metallic FM synths to redfall and see on see, drenched in reverb, with some more squelchy FM/303-type sounds bouncing around the edges playing counter melodies, until it becomes much darker around the 2-minute mark. The synth riffery doesn't stick quite as well as most of the Oversteps tunes, though. No don't say it, it's not an out-ta*SLAP*...

Many songs feel less structured than Oversteps pieces, and more like jams. No bad thing, though, since most don't last much past 5 or 6 minutes. I don't require hooks, just interesting stuff going on beyond spastic drumming! There's definitely much more than that going on during Move Of Ten's 40+ minutes. Finally, I'm just so pleased to say that Ae are stepping away from autism-stroking drums for a while. By keeping them simple(r) and instead going nuts with t
he textures and synths, Autechre are going for exactly the opposite of the composing approach they took on Untilted and Draft. And it's TREMENDOUSLY more invigorating and enjoyable as a result. B+ or 8/10.

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