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Monday
Apr052010

Autechre - Oversteps

AUTECHRE - OVERSTEPS

(Warp)

Such is the diversity of modern music that it’s difficult to think of many groups or acts whose releases are treated as an event in the old-fashioned sense. And for a pair of musicians who are the very definition of the faceless electronic producer stereotye, Autechre do a remarkable job of keeping us in suspense with each album that they produce.

The path they’ve taken with their albums indicates a willingness to seek out new territory, but like an animal that covers its tracks, make sure that it is not followed. Messrs Booth and Brown have successfully etched out a niche in music that makes their presence, aesthetic and new material savoured with an intensity that is pretty much missing elsewhere in music. Furthermore, they have taken their love of hiphop and thrown it into the static playing field that defines the specific genres of electronic music and emerge successfully with something that unlike less successful artists, doesn’t sound like an obvious collision of the two. Genre-splicing and hybrids are often the curse of modern music, where the results sound like a diluted version of both.

A steady stream of obtuse and difficult records came to something of an end with 2008’s Quaristice, which hinted at a return to the more melodic strains of their earlier albums. (Hooray, say thousands of Warp fanboys, who gave up with Autechre when they couldn’t come to terms with the brilliant sludge of albums like Confield.) “Oversteps”, to a certain degree, does continue this trend, but it would be incorrect to think that they have left behind the atomized deconstruction of sound that has characterised their sound since 2000 or so.

Whilst the dense, overlapping compositions of past haven’t been forgotten, “Oversteps” relies a lot on swamping the listener with a raw rush of particular types of sound, whether it be the glistening melodies of “See on See” or the crunching, almost compacted layers of noise and static that permeate “Yuop”. As one descends through the album (this is the trouble when you listen on itunes sometimes) there’s a feeling that one hits particular types of sonic strata as the album progresses, rather than coming across anything relating to anything approaching a sort of narrative. And to be honest, Autechre pretty much defy the rulebook with so many conventions in music, that it almost feels worthless to try and discuss their music on the same terms as others. However, it does seem that they are keen to swing between two polarised points - the rich tone of pure electronically generated melody and crushing, almost 8-bit style noise.

If there’s any sort of influence that shines through here, it’s surprisingly from Tangerine Dream, and in particular the caustic noise of their early material. Autechre’s greatest strength during this period of their career has been the freeform nature of their compositions, which given their reliance on software, gives their music a sense of Deus Ex Machina, where random elements of sound seem be generated almost of their own volition. This flowing sort of fluidity to their music does have a strong connection with music made by Froese and co, but seeks to embrace disonnance more readily.

There is the recourse to hiphop rhythms at times, but I feel as if this is almost unnecessary now. “Ilanders” swerves through a mess of sound, topped off with the odd wash of atmosphere, but the addition of clipped rhythm for me almost seems like a recourse to the roots of their origins when looking forward has always been central to our enjoyment of their music. “QPlay” sees them mix melody with them in a classic Autechre-style, but apart from the charm of listening to such a disorientating song, it doesn’t feel as if there has been a great deal of progression at work. “D_sho_qub” is much better, retaining a 90’s style rave line at the heart of a track swamped with all sorts of confusing leads, that then mutates into something much darker with choral samples.

The album gets better as it progresses, with songs becoming more and more fluid in style, and also leaving behind the almost wilful dissonance of the earlier tracks. That’s not to say that noise doesn’t feature, but it is used in a more sophisticated fashion, “Redfall” in particular being exciting without sounding too obvious.

Ultimately however, “Oversteps” surprises with each listen. It doesn’t have the same sort of blanket aesthetic that characterizes a lot of their earlier material, which makes for difficult listening early on. I found however that many of the tracks came to life after several plays. There’s no doubt that it is expected to be a disorientating experience, but then again in amongst some complicated parts, the odd flourish or key change proves to be a delight.

I could write all night and still not get to the heart of what Autechre are doing in terms of the technology they use, or even what they sound like. Whilst “Oversteps” doesn’t really make any sort of quantum leap in terms of pushing electronic music to new, unexplored boundaries, it still confirms that Autechre are still without doubt at the forefront of mapping out new possibilities. Their role as the cartographers of our generation remains unquestioned.

Toby Frith

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