Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Autechre - Exai

 

When Warp Records signed two fairly ordinary hip-hop loving, mixtape-swapping Rochdale lads in the rise of the 90's, I doubt even they knew the legacy the duo would carve for themselves over the coming decades. They may not be recording their music in some luxury penthouse in the back-garden of an LA mansion, nor have platinum-coated vinyls nailed to their walls back home, but for Rob Brown & Sean Booth, the Autechre identity has become one of the underlying pedigrees for modern-day electronic music's growth. It's a name many an electronic fan will know - and for those who don't, it's one they quickly come to learn - and throughout their 20+ year career, their sound has carved, shaped, shifted, even shape-shifted a World where sound is simply not of instrumental dictatorship, but is a model of control in its own right. And while their sound has become evidently more experimental and abstracted in later years, that doesn't take away from the landmark sounds they've managed to create overall: from the hip-hop-grounded simplicity of Incunabula, to the composite melodies of Tri Repetae, to the later drastic shifts in perspective and form that were Quaristice & Oversteps. Their discography is one of consistent exploration and a need for testing sound at its most rawest and uncontrolled. But where their EPs and stand-alone offerings can be regarded as some of the most recognizably well-executed ventures into sound as a mechanic, their albums increasingly feel more like analyzes of the musical World around them...and to a lesser extent perhaps, one of a personal reflection. It could explain then why Exai - a reference to the Roman numeral XI - continues the band's relation to numerics, as if the duo are well aware of their own substantial output of sound, and are meaning to express that similar personal reflection. Well, if we're talking substantial, then a two-hour 17-track follow-up certainly feels relevant in that regard.

As expected, Autechre take little time to shift from their previously established sound with the opening track Fleure (and noted, you're more than likely to pronounce these names a lot differently to how I will) which briskly opens up with a glitchy, graveled swatch of synths against a slightly higher-pitched offering of electronics. All the while, gurgling of bass synths bubble in the backdrop, and gradually, the emphasis on the stability of these sounds comes closer and closer to the forefront, burst textures gaining more intensity before the song reaches its isolating close of dubbed bass and heated synthesizers. Irlite (get 0) straight after, by contrast, reminds me of Quaristice's compact take on melody in its rhythmic burst of synthesizers in the 10-minute track's early offering. And slowly, the track grows in its melodic bursts, later additions of synths coming off in parts like guitars, and in others like an organ piece, and it's the shifting textures of electronics that gives the track a lasting appeal. But none more-so than the track's latter half dive into what is more a darker and gruesome underlaying of regurgitating synths and pin-point strikes of sounds that make the track feel as if it's been turned on its head or - more likely - been pulled inside out. To hear these two tracks side-by-side, you get quite a revealing glimpse into how well Autechre's sounds play both in what is a standardized long-running mode, and by contrast, a more pop-like simplifying of length in the form of a four minute track. Prac-f returns us straight-after to the latter approach and its rough, steadied mix of crystallized percussion and mountainous bass may not provide any real insight into melody, but production wise creates some rather engaging conflicts between the many synthetic sounds being generated.

Already there's a sense of some kind of geographic about Autechre's quite obtrude landscaping of sound. And even if the sounds emanating don't exactly paint a peaceful or calm picture, the engagement between sounds still shows an interesting synergy between tone and texture. It's that same synergy in tracks like jatevee C that are appealing in its lavish inclusion of more analog and ambient sounds against what is still a crisp, sharp delivery of obstructed sounds. But it's the way the track leads its listener on and maintains this level of sequence and journeying, that conjures interest. The influences of other genres - as is/was apparent on their 90's releases - returns to full swing later on in tracks like T ess xi and vekoS, the sustained control of the likes of techno and hip-hop resurfacing to great effect in the duo's drastic meshing of melody and rhythm. Because of this, I'm enticed by Autechre's decision-making in the recording of this album. Despite its length on first inspection, you slowly but surely come to the realization that length doesn't necessarily dictate or affect your view on how the duo's music pans out in the long-run. Rather, Autechre feel almost at ease and rather playful in rediscovering what might be a younger love for 90s sound and here, find a way to triangulate those ideas into their more contemporary, signature pattern of programmed, mechanical arrhythmic sounds.

The spiky, jagged techno on the track tuinorizn shows the duo's focus on meshing the past with the present, and yet neither one of the time periods tends to impact negatively on the other. There are some very minute, tight percussive hits and dwindled sparks of electronics that dither and scatter about the track and even then when the atmosphere is at its most concentrated and, most likely, mechanically compressed, there's still enough of a tone and a texture to the music that gives it a sense of a past frame. my only worry then - especially at the half-way mark - is whether the duo's line of thinking actually leans casually too much into experimentation and has lesser focus on the actual finalizing and implementing of their ideas. The track bladelores is full of these wonderfully crafted synth textures, from the rhythmic analogue beats of the classic synthesizers to the colourful cosmic soundscapes that are added later on. However, while I do admire Autechre's clear-cut emphasis on rhythm when building up a composition from the base up, I do question whether a twelve minute length can actually withhold such a boldly crafted idea. Not that the ideas themselves are at fault. Rather I come away from this feeling that the deliberate lengthening has only stretched out the composition into something that perhaps could have been (in a shorter form) much more lavishly textured and provoking in its flow. Though given there are only three tracks that pass the ten minute mark on Exai, the concern over length is left somewhat a minimum, even if the remainders are still not exactly quick to pass.

But what Autechre create, to counteract this minute concern, is a sound that despite its unfathomable, algorithm-like complexity of pitch, tone and texture, still holds a tremendous amount of consistency and understanding about its self that each track - amidst the conflict and contrast with one another - flows with enough integrity so as to show the music doesn't simply come across as purely naked and bare in its ideas. I refer again to Quaristice in that much like that record, this album has a yin-yang state of both order and disorder about its music. Yet while the former record succeeded because of its limitation and drastic speed of shifting from position to position, what this record does however - especially on the track 1 1 is - is push the envelope in how far and varied Autechre's catalog of sounds can go without running too far into experimental darting. There's still enough of a rhythm and deliverance of texture and mechanics to the duo's music, but at the same time, it comes off as held back and confined in such a way that actually works to its favour. And it's the way the duo's atmospheric translation of that confinement, as is the case with runrepik, that provides a well-sought physicality to their non-physical subjectivity of synthetic sounds. The percussion here especially, is a lot livelier and reactive, and yet its the icy almost hollow ambiance in the backdrop that has the biggest effect on the track's overall expression as a piece.

But conflicting sounds is what has made Autechre's sound such an interesting listen throughout, and the chaotic nature of it isn't necessarily the highlight of this record. Rather, it's the way the duo manage to architect - as if through a desire to conceptualize or visualize - a search for some kind of physicality, or perhaps rather the more connective tones and textures to their sound. The final quarter of this album sees that search come to the forefront of their music. Cloudline offers moments where you can almost visualize or perhaps attempt some visual utterance as to the music's true projection. Electronics here feel muddier or enticed by what's around it; there's a likeness maybe to a suburban, possibly underground, setting, and while the track is slow in its unveiling of such a scene, the darkening earthly tones that come across to us are without question some of the more interesting and provoking of Autechre's line-up. Likewise, deco Loc's thumping dubbed percussion feels as if it's found its visual place as opposed to frantically creating by artifice. So too are the sounds around it - the glitchy yawning drones, the off-shoot clicks and finer-tuned percussion hits - more compiled and content with their surroundings. There's less this freely unstable way to how the sounds radiate, and in this most structured, sequential state, Autechre do great at laying this down for us to delve into. But the closer YJY UX, is perhaps one of the more centred, and ultimately rich, tracks of the lot. Despite the track's glazed synthesizers and polyrhythmic tones creating a very bright, space-flung surrounding, the way the track pierces through the clouds and fog of analog electronics, there's an overwhelming clarity and sense of focus about the music. Even when the track begins to include darted waverings of bass synths and percussion, the slower momentum to the track ends the album in a surprisingly smooth and comforting manner. So much so that it emphasizes how blurred the figure of length and time this album holds, and for a two hour record, comes off in a well-sought high.

But the predicted and assumed to this music, are ultimately personal and personally-motivated guesses - guesses which are, likely, as good as the next individual looking to add a sense of imagery to these sounds. The great hidden benefit to Autechre's sound then, is that it's limitless in its visual equivalent, and it only emphasizes the fact that they are not a physically-bound outfit. Rather, the mechanical, metaphorical, abstractness of their sound is more a what-if than a what-is; ideas that question, but knowing more than likely they're not going to gain any concrete answers...at least, not yet. Is Exai any good? Well, that question can be answered, and the answer is...no, it's not good, it's great. Autechre's 11th output into the realm of sound and sonic integrity is one that is consistently fulfilling and engaging with its listener, but doesn't overly state what or where it's trying to project. And it's the ambiguity about the music that plays to the electronic's benefit. Though fans never like to even think such an issue when discussing their favourite artists, it is evident that when you reach album 11 in your discography, the question of ceasing any and all musical output is no longer a case of if, but when. Ideally, we want them to continue, I certainly do. But regardless of what comes after, and regardless of when that time does eventually come, Exai will remain as Autechre's most vastly rich and varied offering of their collection. Taking from the past without heavily retreating into it, while at the same time glimpsing into the future without submitting to its experimental withdrawals, the two hours you spend listening to this record may not be best summed up as the quickest two hours you'll sit through. Rather, as you quickly come to realize, it's one of the most prevailing.
~Jordan

8.6

2 comments:

  1. Excellent review

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  2. Wonderful post!! thank you for the share!!! I have bookmarked your page and will be back very soon to read your new post!

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