AUTECHRE: AMBER (1994)
1) Foil; 2) Montreal; 3) Silverside; 4) Slip; 5) Glitch; 6) Piezo; 7) Nine; 8) Further; 9) Yulquen; 10) Nil; 11) Teartear.
This is Autechre's first «real» album, written and recorded coherently over a period of six months — and there are two ways to think about it. First, if you are obsessed with tracing the artistic evolution of Autechre, and with the concept that «no Autechre album sounds like any other Autechre album», you can follow the line of the All-Music Guide review. Essentially, it states that on Amber Autechre are beginning to drift away from «IDM» and into the realms of the unknown, unexplored, unpredictable, and, perhaps, even unpalatable — for those who prefer their electronic music to soothe the body rather than the soul.
But if you are not that adamant about finding ten major differences between Incunabula and Amber, you might end up not finding even one. From a sheer statistical point of view, the tracks on Amber do seem to rely a little less on loud rhythmic beats than those on Incunabula — once you have bothered with an actual countdown, that is. But in general, the album's «aura» does not seem to have changed at all: the same all-pervading mood of the «ice factory» is still the major attraction, and, at the same time, there are only about two or three tracks on the entire album that are not «danceable» from a purely technical point of view.
If there is a difference, the way I see it, it is mostly in that the keyboard parts for Amber seem to be generally more «non-descript» than those on Incunabula — reflecting, perhaps, the relative hastiness, with which the album was made, or maybe a conscious desire to move one step closer to pure «ambient». ʽSilversideʼ, with its synth-strings playing out like a soundtrack to a voyage in deep space, is probably the best example; but many other tracks really behave in the same way, except that the soft and static atmospheric waves of the synths clash with hard layers of electronic percussion (ʽFurtherʼ — ten minutes of mild techno beats over a shallow sea of hums, whooshes, and whispers); unfortunately, these waves are simply not evocative enough to stimulate creative writing. It does not help, either, that, much too often, Brown and Booth seem to be stuck in an overtly happy mood: tracks like ʽSlipʼ and ʽNineʼ prompt you to simply jump into a state of trouble-free coma and stay there frozen for all of their duration. It's a funny feeling, but not without a side effect of silly boredom.
For me personally, Amber never manages to build up on the strength of the opening number. ʽFoilʼ is all based around one simple trick — the recurrent raising and lowering of the pitch of «tuned percussion» — and it is one of those great effects that really makes you feel inside a giant sci-fi factory, helpless, miserable, and overwhelmed by the industrial might. (Actually, it is the sort of factory where most of the action is hidden from direct view — only the repetitive percussive noises make you aware of the billions of operations per second that are going on). Although it is one of the most minimalistic tracks on the album, it is the only one that has an atmosphere of «cold & cruel» grandiosity; everything else is quite playful, even «cute» in comparison.
Instinctively, I feel compelled to label Amber as a quick, not very interesting toss-off, not offering much in terms of either innovation or emotionality that the assembled tracks on Incunabula did not already have. It really comes very close to being «just boring» a lot of times — a problem that weighs much more heavily on electronic music than on «live» music — and, overall, it just seems like a space-filler, in no way predicting the radical twists that Autechre would undertake already on the next record. Maybe not exactly a «sophomore slump», as they say (is that terminology even applicable for IDM releases?), but a thumbs down all the same.