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.