Exai Review

                Autechre’s ‘Exai’ is their largest offering to the world. Years after the robust trinity of ‘Confield – Draft 7.30 – Untilted’ Autechre moved into the wilderness. Quaristice came followed by Oversteps and Move of Ten. Of course Autechre fans may heavily disagree about this sort of categorization. That’s one of the hallmarks of being an Autechre fan. Split up into ‘Pre-Confield’ and ‘Post-Confield’ groups the two Autechre style appreciators rarely meet, besides on the internet. Even this is a gross over-simplification. Otherwise they remain hidden from view. I sometimes wonder if Autechre fans even exist in real life or if I’m just being trolled. Compared to other fan bases, the Autechre fan base is rabid. For years the hope of an album that could unite Autechre fans has kept many listeners tuned into every possible Autechre release. Such an album was thought to be mythical, impossible to balance between warmth and experimentation. 

                Exai might be the album to bring Autechre fans together under a common banner. At long last fans will have similar interests. No longer will there be that level of name-slinging, of gripes about how Autechre used to be harsher, or used to be mellower. Well that’s the hope. I doubt that will be the reality. Autechre’s work is so abstract that there are many interpretations. This is the sign of quality. Multiple opinions mean that the work possesses depth. I respect Autechre’s output even if I’m not equally into each one of them. There’s a difficultly in defining the work, a main reason countless impersonators have tried and failed to copy what Autechre does so well.  

 

                The long track lengths brought my spirits up. One of the best things I like about Autechre’s work is their ability to explore literally every aspect of the song, rhythm and melody. With several songs stretching out past the ten minute mark I’m incredibly happy. Personally any of their longer tracks tend to play toward their strengths. Strangely their shorter songs have never affected me in quite the same way. That’s probably a main reason I’ve had difficulties fully enjoying Quaristice. Here though there are several tracks I’ve already been enjoying. Obviously these will change. But by now I’ve listened to the album more times than is healthy. This happens with every Autechre release, I play the album over and over again for a few weeks trying to figure it all out. Below are some of the ones I that have made their ‘presence felt’. 

                irlite (get 0) – I like this one a lot. This feels free. Anyone who remembers and likes Tri Repetae++’s occasional stops should be pleased with the latter half of the track. 

                T ess xi – This is one of the most straightforward songs they’ve penned in a very long time. Or at least that’s the initial impression. I’m still amazed this even exist, this far into their career. How they develop the achingly beautiful melody is through their own peculiar approach. Yes I really missed this sort of Autechre track. I haven’t heard them sound this tender in a while. 

                bladelores – Even those who hate the album would probably admit this is the album’s highlight. The various blurbs about this track compare it to ‘being born’, ‘the universe expanding and contracting’ and other similar glorified terms. What is most important is how much Autechre gets right, down to the rhythm, down to the melody. A lot is going on within the song, up to the point where it feels like an album’s worth of ideas condensed into a single song. 

                spl9 – Madness in sonic form is the best description. Autechre haven’t abused their equipment like this for a while, and they are huge fans of abusing equipment. 

                cloudline and deco Loc– Autechre really enjoy hip-hop. Sometimes this gets lost in their work, sometimes not such as V-Proc. Here on cloudline they make their preference really clear. This track sounds almost Gescom-like in its playfulness. Deco Loc approaches the same idea from a slightly different angle, though the emotion is roughly the same. 

                For some reason Exai and Autechre in general are reminding me of Thomas Pynchon’s career from ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ to ‘Mason & Dixon’ in particular. During that period between the two novels came out the collection of short stories ‘Slow Learner’ and the poorly received ‘Vineland’. After ‘Vineland’ a lot of people sort of figured that was the end of Pynchon, or at least figured they wouldn’t hear from him for a while. Yet not long after ‘Vineland’ came the oddly touching ‘Mason & Dixon’. 

                Most likely Pynchon and Autechre fans overlap. Like Pynchon, Autechre have sort of seen a gradual decline in interest or excitement for their more recent work. Also like Pynchon people pretty much have their minds made up about whether or not Autechre is for them. Hence Exai’s ability to attract anyone but the converted is relatively limited. For the converted, Exai is the sign that two decades later, Autechre can still impress.

Autechre – Exai



                Thus begins another new chapter in the lives of Autechre. Every release has a certain level of expectation. Doing anything for two decades tends to do that. Besides Autechre at this point have pretty much copyrighted whatever weird sound one can think of. Of course they’re a long away from the relevance they had in the 90s and early 2000s: their audience has aged, the songs have gotten smaller, more compact, and there is worry that what they’ve done has started to get repetitive. 

                Confield began this transformation into a deeper darker weird industrial device. Other albums only solidified this process (Draft 7.30, Untilted) until they reached perhaps the nadir of their creative output, Quaristice. Quaristice had these tiny little nuggets, sometimes excellent, mostly not. Listening to it was like hearing an idea thrown out without the exploration that Autechre usually did. Even the later EP which came out showing the ‘versions’ of the tracks did little to show anything about the process. Rather it was just a larger offering just as blank.

                Oversteps recovered from this with a bit more effort, longer songs, more ideas, and better execution. Then there was the surprise of ‘Move of Ten’ which confirmed that Autechre was beginning to return to earlier pastures. In fact many of the songs on ‘Move of Ten’ were oddly accessible (by Autechre standards). Yet for both of these improved albums there was the sense of loss. Most of the songs didn’t expand the way Autechre used to. Fans would simply have to deal with shorter songs, certain now established formulas without the unpredictable weirdness (Confield) or trance-like repetition that made early records (Tri Repetae++) such joys. 

                Exai may change this familiar pattern. For one the entire album is two hours long, the longest release they’ve ever had (Tri Repetae++ included EPs). With 17 songs the average song length would be about 7 minutes, similar to the long length they once employed, as recently as on Untilted (in 2005). Will this be the thing that sees Autechre return to its longer, weirder roots? Judging from the past two releases, of Move of Ten and of Oversteps, there may be hope. 

                But no Autechre album or EP is complete without the expected leak or leaks. Leaks are what make Autechre so exciting. Without leaks how can one know if bedroom producers are working hard enough? It simply can’t be done. Hence there will be leaks. They will vary in quality. Various internet dwellers will argue over the authenticity of the leaks until it is finally confirmed. Plenty of previously obscure bands will get a little attention for a split second. 

                What exactly Autechre will do now remains to be seen. The last two albums can be seen as a move towards incorporating melody. Will they return to their earlier pastures of the 90s releases or the splendid weirdness of Confield? Or will they decide to embrace the mediocrity of Quaristice? Only time will tell on March 3rd, 2013. Prepare.

Autechre – Exai

                Thus begins another new chapter in the lives of Autechre. Every release has a certain level of expectation. Doing anything for two decades tends to do that. Besides Autechre at this point have pretty much copyrighted whatever weird sound one can think of. Of course they’re a long away from the relevance they had in the 90s and early 2000s: their audience has aged, the songs have gotten smaller, more compact, and there is worry that what they’ve done has started to get repetitive. 

                Confield began this transformation into a deeper darker weird industrial device. Other albums only solidified this process (Draft 7.30, Untilted) until they reached perhaps the nadir of their creative output, Quaristice. Quaristice had these tiny little nuggets, sometimes excellent, mostly not. Listening to it was like hearing an idea thrown out without the exploration that Autechre usually did. Even the later EP which came out showing the ‘versions’ of the tracks did little to show anything about the process. Rather it was just a larger offering just as blank.

                Oversteps recovered from this with a bit more effort, longer songs, more ideas, and better execution. Then there was the surprise of ‘Move of Ten’ which confirmed that Autechre was beginning to return to earlier pastures. In fact many of the songs on ‘Move of Ten’ were oddly accessible (by Autechre standards). Yet for both of these improved albums there was the sense of loss. Most of the songs didn’t expand the way Autechre used to. Fans would simply have to deal with shorter songs, certain now established formulas without the unpredictable weirdness (Confield) or trance-like repetition that made early records (Tri Repetae++) such joys. 

                Exai may change this familiar pattern. For one the entire album is two hours long, the longest release they’ve ever had (Tri Repetae++ included EPs). With 17 songs the average song length would be about 7 minutes, similar to the long length they once employed, as recently as on Untilted (in 2005). Will this be the thing that sees Autechre return to its longer, weirder roots? Judging from the past two releases, of Move of Ten and of Oversteps, there may be hope. 

                But no Autechre album or EP is complete without the expected leak or leaks. Leaks are what make Autechre so exciting. Without leaks how can one know if bedroom producers are working hard enough? It simply can’t be done. Hence there will be leaks. They will vary in quality. Various internet dwellers will argue over the authenticity of the leaks until it is finally confirmed. Plenty of previously obscure bands will get a little attention for a split second. 

                What exactly Autechre will do now remains to be seen. The last two albums can be seen as a move towards incorporating melody. Will they return to their earlier pastures of the 90s releases or the splendid weirdness of Confield? Or will they decide to embrace the mediocrity of Quaristice? Only time will tell on March 3rd, 2013. Prepare.

Gescom – Gescom EP 7.5

For me, Gescom appealed to me as the place where I got to hear Autechre cut loose. Usually they concerned themselves with making another extremely relevant and critically acclaimed album in their day job. Gescom allowed them to explore more of their impulses, so you could get a better idea of what they’d do if nobody was watching.

This particular release ends up being probably one of my more beloved Gescom releases. Containing some excellent melodies and that beautiful smell of early 90s IDM, before IDM became extremely stuffy, it works. Only four tracks long, it manages to keep out all filler, leaving only the ‘best of’.

“Dan One” sounds a lot like “Djarum” from their Anti EP of the same year. No worries, it is fine to have two different variations on the same theme. This take has a bit more on it compared to the sparser Autechre version.  “Five” has one of those builds on it. You know, one of those fantastic layers upon layer. Each little segments snaps so perfectly into place, with the slight melodies being embellished more and more as the song grows. 

Finally, the latter half is a bit more ambient in scope. It isn’t the boring type of ambient, it remains teeming with life. Honestly, the latter songs could be placed into an early Future Sound of London album and I don’t think anyone would notice.

I’m thankful that throughout the years they’ve kept up this little side project. By hearing them with some of their defenses down, it shows just how talented they really are in such a crowded field.

Yes, that means there were at least 16 volumes before this.

The Death of my first Musical Genre (IDM)

Everyone remembers growing up with a certain musical genre, one they truly could call their own. For me, that meant the Intelligent Dance Music, or IDM moniker. Used generally for electronic music that remained classified only by its unusual structures and lack of actual dancing, it served as the perfect gateway music for budding music snobs. The price of admission into this genre remained very low, basically anyone with a sense of melody and an interest in non-rhythmic music could join, so long as they had some ultra-cheap music software. 

Intelligent Dance music had to be the first musical genre created by and for the internet. Created in the US of A for the IDM list it was probably one of the first obsessive email lists dedicated exclusively for a specific type of music. Due to its origins in the US, a great deal of artists often described as “IDM” declared the term to be an American construct, particularly Richard D. James (Aphex Twin). Rather than just come to peace with the fairly stupid term, he decided to coin an even stupider term “braindance” and used that heavily for his own Rephlex record label. For whatever reason, the term “braindance” never caught on, probably because it looked so dang awful.

The weird thing remained how I never saw or heard the term “IDM” anywhere besides the internet. Even in what is commonly referred to as “reality” rarely did people bring up any artist who might have been considered “IDM”? What was going on? I later learned that this was an ultra-nerdy sub-sect of music which involved large doses of gear worship and familiarity with various avant-garde composers.

Just as I got it all together, that vast web of interconnected artists, it ended. That knowledge became useless, how this artist related to that one, when this one last put out a record, what record label released their first album. Genres never end swiftly, there’s always a few stragglers, a few artists who continue to follow their path. Listeners are even worse, I can’t tell you how many fans of Aphex Twin I’ve met, of undetermined ages, longing to stay young by listening to the music of their youth, when they were last relevant. 

Putting a year on it, I’d say 2004 marked the end. By then, only a few artists continually brought out a solid product, like Autechre, O9, and Venetian Snares. Most of the others had begun moving in other, more boring, directions. Squarepusher had passed his prime, Aphex Twin remained quiet. Pan Sonic came out with that absolutely monstrous Kesto 4 disc set, but those Finns could easily move themselves into the Glitch/Noise category if push came to shove.  

 

Snobby music changed in 2004. The indie renaissance began. Whoever were the arbiters of true taste decided that elitist music didn’t need to sound as masochistic as IDM. Instead, dance became simply dance music. DFA records confirmed that it was alright for us to re-explore the past, of what had gone on in that period between 1978-1989 in New York City. Dance music flourished, indie rock flourished. Even those who went the more masochistic route, by taking on noise, found that noise remained a less heavily curated genre than IDM ever was. Lacking the pretention of IDM while maintaining the weirdness, it fit those looking for something less accessible like a glove.

I remember releasing this genre had ended around 2004. As I looked around at the beach I was wandering around my friends put on Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and I simply danced. No longer did I have to use obscure terminology for what I listened to. Instead, simple words like ‘dance’ and ‘rock’ became usable words again. I felt human, like part of a real community, a community that didn’t exist exclusively online. 

Part of me still misses the deeply weird musings of IDM. For that I have a few artists left who occasionally let out a great hurrah every now and then. But for the most part the scene left without announcement into cataloged internet posts, various dusty corners of the web, still keeping them warm with the music of the past.  

 

What was the hardest genre death for you to handle? Will Chillwave live? Is Witch house a real genre? What will 2011 bring, new genre-wise?

SND Week

SND remain a true favorite. When other artists ‘jump the shark’ SND has stayed tried and true to its roots. If they felt that the scene they worked in had grown too overbearing, they simply dropped off the planet. In 2002 they did this and came back about six years later to basically start right back up.
This week I’ll be reviewing almost everything SND-related. Whether that is Mark Fell’s solo work or Mark Fell’s work with other musicians, they are all fair game. As I sorted through the various projects, I noticed how little information exists about what Mat Steel does in the duo. I know they specialize in minimalism, but he takes it to a new extreme. No actual side project or writing from him. Anytime there’s an interview, Mark handles it. Mat’s job might be the ‘weaker link’ of the duo.
Mat: Hey Mark, I added a single beat on that last track. You like it?
Mark: Yes, I mean, there’s about 597 different beats on there, but yours really sounded great in that particular section.
Mat: Anything else I can help with? Perhaps I might assist you with some of the programming?
Mark: While that does sound helpful, you could help me out in other ways. Remember art school? Man that was fun. How about you go downstairs and get me a beer and we’ll talk about it some more.
Mat: Sure thing!
                I’m assuming that their average recording sessions go something like this. But that’s all irrelevant who contributes the most to the music. What their music focuses on is as much what’s there as what isn’t.
                If anyone needed a light introduction into electronic minimalism, they could do worse than this. Containing the same muscle as Autechre without the ornate imagery, they incorporate influences of garage, techno, hip-hop and glitch. I don’t mean glitch in a “aw, how sweet” sense which a lot of musicians use. Rather, it is meant as an easier way to get into the chance rhythms offered up by the experimental musician Yasunao Tone (indeed, that’s what Mark Fell stated inspired his latest album ‘Multistability’).
                 SND in general appears to be in full swing after such a hiatus. Having released an album on the prestigious Raster Noton label last year, they released an EP this year. Solo work-wise, Mark has been busy. Not one, but two full lengths are expected, with the first one on Raster Noton just dropped about a week ago. Then, and hold onto your hats here, there’s another one in December on Editions Mego. Most likely that one will be the harsher, more abstract of the two, but lately Mego’s been harder to predict.
                Yes, I know how infinitely nerdy this duo is. But consider it a testament to the inner nerd that lives in us all.