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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Autechre: Amber


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.

Check "Amber" (CD) on Amazon Check "Amber" (MP3) on Amazon

4 comments:

  1. How is "Amber" THAT much worse than "Incanabula"? You gave them exactly the same 8 on your old site, and the only problems I can find that you give in your review are "too happy" and "space-filler". It's not bad! If you really felt just "bored" by it, don't give it a thumbs- at all.
    BUT I MEAN IT IS YOUR SYSTEM, AFTER ALL. What do I know? Just a stupid question. Not that I've heard either of these albums, either. Don't mind this comment, really. I just have nothing better to do now that my argument with Jose Parada's over. Sigh.

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  2. Yeah I think a no-thumbs is more adequate

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  3. dont wanna knock you Georgie, but A) you should really bring back the scores, and B) someone who claims that 60's rock is the pinnacle of all things good and holy and can never be topped should probably not be reviewing Autechre, nonetheless C) I applaud you for trying

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  4. this is a great album with a good enough amount of melody. Surprised Georgie boy doesn't like it.

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