So Autechre have decided to drop another album on us, and not only that, it's a double. Needless to say it will take a long time to fully digest all of it, but having had a lot of trouble enjoying it even after a couple of listens - which was quite the opposite reaction I had to the magnificent Oversteps - I'm already feeling rather disappointed with it. So my initial feelings are as follows:
On Oversteps, Autechre made a big step back to melodic composition augmenting their convoluted rhythms and textures. I wasn't expecting Exai to be "the same" - this is Ae after all - but it often sounds to me like a completely different artist than those involved with Oversteps (yes, I'm aware it's still Booth and Brown, the point still stands).
Exai is the first Autechre album that adds NOTHING to their "legacy". It is a concoction of the industrial bleakness of Confield, mixed with some of the masturbatury rhythmic excess of Draft / Untilted, and the atmospherics of Quaristice. Occasionally, echoes of Oversteps drop in here and there, but this is Autechre back to being "obtuse" and excessively programming-focussed. Many of these tracks go on for far, far too long and do nothing new that we have not heard before.
Bladelores is one particular nadir I find: it's just one filtered pad that never shifts notes, merely sustaining under ridiculous beat-munching for far, far too long. Sure, they spent a lot of effort on going nuts with the beats, but one pad? For most of a 12~ minute track? Lazy!
Flep, tuinorizn, deco Loc, vekoS, 1 1 is, prac-f and Fleure stand out for me, as all being drum-focussed workouts, favouring obscure, intentionally difficult rhythms and textures and little else to latch on to. On the occasions that pads, leads, plips and squelches do form some sort of melodic layers, they often do so without forming anything memorable. recks on, irlite (get 0), runrepik and YJY UX are good examples of this.
jatevee C has some delicious synth work though, with some off-kilter donks over those huge pads. T ess xi follows that with some of the best chords on the album, recalling old Megadrive soundtracks put through the wringer, though I'm less fussed with the latter half where it degenerates into irritated splutters. cloudline recalls some of Ae's LP5 / EP7 era work, with its skittering, destroyed hip hop beat underlying some "barely there" synth stabs.
Spl9 has some punch and intensity with some quirky melodies over some huge beats. But this is rare on Exai, had there been more Mcr Quarter-style industrial ear-bleeding workouts, I'd have approved. No the vast majority of it feels like Confield mk 2 with somewhat more elaborate MAX patches. Disappointing and tedious. Exai will likely convince many that they are listening to a higher art form, despite being quite a vacuous and unmoving experience. Oversteps remains their best.