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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Autechre: Oversteps


AUTECHRE: OVERSTEPS (2010)

1) r ess; 2) ilanders; 3) known(1); 4) pt2ph8; 5) qplay; 6) see on see; 7) Treale; 8) os veix3; 9) O=0; 10) d-sho qub; 11) st epreo; 12) redfall; 13) krYlon; 14) Yuop.

Finally, a real change of pace — overcoming the «Confield block» once and for all, Autechre release their freshest release in a decade. Some have suggested a return to the icy ambience of Amber, but in reality this is more like a democratic synthesis of Amber and Confield, almost to the point where you'd think they were dubbing a 1994-flavored track over a 2000-flavored one and then smoothing away the rough edges.

Actually, the whole «return to Amber» thing was probably invented by people who never got further than the first track: ʽr essʼ (oh God, those hideous titles...) is, indeed, one of those freezing cold synthesizer whirlwinds the art of which these guys had mastered ages ago. Atmospheric and not overtly exciting, but a surprising start nevertheless — no beats! no microchips! no static! just the good old icy stateliness.

But over the next few tracks, gradually, yet knowingly, they are once again building something new. The beats, the chips, and the static will be making frequent visits, for sure, but the primary emphasis is on synthesizing «old-fashioned» sounds: harpsichord hammers, xylophones, little bells and musical boxes, so that more than half of the compositions weave the pattern of a giant, tremendously complex electronic clock — one that you have accidentally locked yourself within. The music does not so much «resonate» here as it simply «scatters» all around, in one large sea of ringing, springing, tinkling, dazzling, whatever.

The actual selected chords are never happy — as we all know, musical boxes help create cuddly magical worlds for little boys and girls, but these ones, like everything else Autechre does, are just completely emotionally neutral, yet still vibrant and active «signs of life». After all, a musi­cal box, or a giant clock, or a primitive (or not so primitive) life-form is emotionally neutral by defi­nition — you can get totally amazed at the complex internal structure of all these things, but it's not as if they would be infecting you with their own amazement, which they do not have. And so, just sit back and enjoy another... umm, documentary by Booth and Brown, this time one from the life of large mechanical concoctions punching each other and exploding in miriads of ringtones, cadences, and dissonances.

Individual highlights are practically non-existent: the only difference is between the «major chi­mers» (ʽknown(1)ʼ, ʽpt2ph8ʼ, ʽsee on seeʼ, etc.) and the more old-fashioned beats-and-bleeps that could have belonged on Draft 7.30 or any other of all those «Confield clones for dummies» (ʽilandersʼ, ʽqplayʼ, etc.). The album does get nicely bookmarked — with retro-brushed ambience of ʽr essʼ at the beginning, and then the same ambience criss-crossed with the kaleidoscopic chi­mes on the last track ʽYuopʼ. Actually, ʽYuopʼ is a bit different in that all of its «sprinkly» sound seems to be radiating into outer space, resonating at us from far, far away (or maybe it's the other way around — cosmic rays breaking through the atmosphere? whatever), so it's an appropriate­ly «universalist» coda for the whole album.

Altogether, the approach is simple in theory and not too awesome in the sheer number of new ideas involved, but with the gazillions of electronic albums out on the market in 2010, even one new idea, consistently implemented in lots of different ways, is not to be taken too lightly. And I have yet to see an electronic (or a non-electronic, for that matter) album that could serve as a bet­ter textbook on all the tricks and treats of The Big Chime — I'm still picking echoes out of my buzzing ears, a tedious, but not wholly unpleasant procedure. Thumbs up.

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

2 comments:

  1. O=0 hahaha! that's hahaha!

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  2. Their best in years, indeed. I'm surprised that the jarring "badly tuned synth" monstrosity of known(1) didn't seem to bother you, George. Other than that, well this is the Autechre album with ilanders on it. Possibly the greatest creation of their career, melodically it does seem to venture into compositional pastures vaguely "new" and un-trodden. Though Treale sometimes comes across as a twisted alien jazz jam.

    I've an extensive review on Discogs, but I'll say this: very glad to see that you enjoyed this, George, and that you agree it's a return to form for them.

    Oh, I will mention again: this works astonishingly well as an alternative soundtrack whilst playing System Shock.

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