Release Date: Mar 5, 2013
Record label: Warp
Genre(s): Electronic, Techno, Experimental Techno, IDM
As they prepare to release their 11th full album, Autechre find themselves in an interesting position, as artists who have become enduringly critic-proof because of their need to walk the line of stark innovation. Despite a tendency towards arctic levels of coldness, production that has been infuriatingly obtuse or dauntingly expansive, and song titles that sound like the result of sedimentary rock analysis, Rob Brown and Sean Booth‘s work over the last two decades has never been anything less than fascinating. Autechre began their journey with 1993’s Incunabula, which harnessed ambient techno to haunting effect, creating silken vibrations of sound, with a core that never lay too far from the dance floor.
So far in 2013 excitement surrounding new album releases has centred mainly around those unexpected offerings from My Bloody Valentine and David Bowie (for very different reasons). In underground circles however news of the appearance of Exai, a new double album from venerated electronic duo Autechre, was greeted with similar levels of anticipation, if not quite as hysterically aired on social media. In the increasingly crowded landscape of electronic music they remain hugely distinctive and if anything are uniquely placed to further their reputation even more, given the continued absence of the likes of labelmates (and similarly lauded) Boards Of Canada and Aphex Twin.
AutechreExai[Warp; 2013]By Josh Becker; March 11, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGAutechre have never been minimalists. From their achingly memorable IDM beginnings--the Anti and Garbage EPs, Amber and Incunabula--to their more deliriously abstract stuff like Confield and 2005's Untilted, Rob Brown and Sean Booth have always forged their own paths and traveled down them with single-minded enthusiasm--accessibility, "danceability," or familiarity be damned. It's this very quality that made the Manchester duo's last studio album, Oversteps, such a revelation: it came across as both a continued experimentation with the tropes of downtempo, IDM, and electronica they'd been toying with for almost two decades as well as a return to their start, embracing warmth and melody in a way they hadn't since before Tri Repetae back in 1995.
Following 2011’s mammoth stock-taking collection EPs 1991-2002, this new double-disc offering from electro pioneers Autechre emphasises that this most perpetually forward-thinking of groups is in no danger of dining out on past glories just yet. Exai starts in typically uncompromising fashion with Fl_eure (catchy song titles still not a specialty), an unsettling marriage of discordant shards of electronic noise over a sinister, buzzing bassline, which gives way to the hypnotic, menacing groove of irilite (get 0). There remains a real feeling of bristling urban paranoia in these programmed noises, yet on T ess Xi they show a slightly softer, more sultry side, with soulful piano pushing the duo towards an odd kind of modern R&B.
Active listening to the entirety of Exai (as in "eleven") is, of course, an endurance test, as it is 120 minutes in length and consists of 17 tracks that could be sequenced in any order with no change of effect. Processing the whole thing is less daunting than it seems on the surface. It begins with the hyper-speed scramble-clutter of "Fleure," but beneath that, there is a bounty of tracks that are riveting and accessible, if by Autechre's challenging and meticulously crafted standard.
Sean Booth and Rob Brown, the former b-boys who’ve become icons to countless geeks-cum-laptop-jockeys (and also the lads in Radiohead), have, over the course of their two-decade-plus partnership as the dance-floor obscurantists known as Autechre, shorn their music of the usual techno conventions (obvious 4/4, melodies, etc. ) to the point of abstraction. The results can offer little purchase to both neophytes and longtime followers: music which shrugs off listeners’ attempts at immediate emotional access, especially since much of it sounds like all the drum machines ever made malfunctioning at the same time.
British electronic duo Autechre have never been content to ride the wave of the avant-garde—they’d much rather be throwing heavy shit into the pool to make their own bloody waves. In the highly derivative world of electronic music, the balance between originality and listenability is a seemingly more complex and difficult one to strike. Exai, the group’s 11th album, more than manages this feat, and with a pulsing, dark elegance only these two can summon.
Exai is being called Rochdale duo Autechre’s eleventh album, but thoughts of what exactly counts as an album when talking of this pair are best not dwelt on for long. Alongside the near-dozen LP’s they’ve released since the Warp Records darlings’ formation way back in 1987, there’s also been a slew of EP releases, each clocking in at about an hour. Exai thinks nothing of doubling that length, sprawling itself out across two discs, and a fair chunk of one’s afternoon.
It feels like Autechre have smoothed out a bit since the days of Draft 7.30 and Untilted. On their last two albums, they pulled back from the mathematics and rediscovered the beautiful yet alien sense of melody that marked their earliest work. But it was hard to know what to expect from their new one—just that it was going to be big. It comes as no surprise that the Manchester duo's 11th album proper is a double-disc behemoth.
Cor blimey! Two hours and 32 seconds worth of music to get through. It's a wade through mystical amalgamations of electronic produce. It's a double helping. Double albums are always taxing to take in, for reviewer or the listener or fan - they take their toll on the ear 'ole. And the best way to ….
Even so far back as 2002, a new Autechre release continued to hold the promise of a music paradigm shift. Now that the sounds they'd cook up by duping their gear can be approximated with a flavour-of-the-week plugin, however, they no longer come off as the innovators they once were. The criteria by which each subsequent Autechre release is judged is moot, leaving listeners to face the music, so to speak.
When Autechre came on the scene in the mid-90s, it felt like the electronic duo had invented an entirely new musical language. In the years since, their releases have been fairly consistent in quality, but their impact diminished as the shock of the new wore off. Is experimental music still experimental if we already know what it's going to do? And is it fair to wish Autechre could still blow our minds the way they once did? Not that they haven't grown as artists.
Autechre neither make casual music, nor do they make music casually: The English duo of Rob Brown and Sean Booth have released 11 albums under the name in the last 20 years, along with a chain of EPs that have generally been as integral to their evolution as the long-players. All of those albums easily pass the one-hour hurdle; 2008's excellent Quaristice comprised 20 relatively brief tracks cut from hours of extended jamming, but it still clocked in just shy of 74 minutes. In 2010, the two enthusiasts offered a webcast of an exhilarating 12-hour DJ set, pogoing from hip-hop and indie rock to industrial and electronica.
This is Autechre operating at their highest level since 1998’s LP5. Chris Power 2013 As Autechre, Sean Booth and Rob Brown have produced some of the best electronic music of the past 20 years. Characterised from the beginning by gloom and intricacy, their sound has grown more complex and austere over time. But while they leave barely a single tone unsplintered, or beat unglitched, Autechre’s project isn’t solely an academic one: their sound has always oscillated between the abstract and the direct.
"The death of the album is nigh," crow the pallbearers of the music industry as a small, cold sun sets upon the iridescent slick of discarded CDs that once was HMV's empire. Yes indeed, it won't be long before our children's snouts will wrinkle up at us in disgust from behind their petabyte audiocrystal players at the mere mention of the sequent tyranny that was the LP. Listening to an album front-to-back will be the sole pursuit of giant harrumphing pipe-smokers with nothing better to do but harp on about how OK Computer changed the world, before gins are replenished and lap blankets patted back into place.