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Autechre “Oversteps”/“Move Of Ten” (Warp)

I first heard Autechre when they made their US debut with Incunabula, their debut album on Warp that got a strange licensing deal on Wax Trax. It was a head-turner for me because I was mired in so-called “industrial” dance music at the time, and Autechre sounded so completely and utterly “other” at that time that it actually caused my taste to begin to evolve rather sharply in a new direction. It’s ironic, then, that Incunabula remains their most generic album, falling in line with Aphex Twin and other so-called IDM artists of the time… highly melodic with a regular groove that would fit in any mid-90s chill-out room. Fast-forward to 2010 and we have not one but TWO brand new albums from the duo. They’ve already redefined IDM as geeks know it through the late 90s and early 00s, and their last several albums have found them exploring the outer limits of accessibility through often tuneless and highly irregular programming, sound experiments and vaguely improvisational-sounding sprawls. Oversteps is their proper album release, while Move of Ten is a somewhat supplemental “EP” (true to Autechre’s reputation, this so-called EP is actually 10 tracks totaling about an hour’s worth of music). Oversteps is probably the more adventurous of the two, an impressive outing that includes 14 tracks running a pretty dynamic gamut. There isn’t a whole lot on here that sounds as wildly new for 2010 as some of their late 90s releases did at the time, but they make up for that with some really sharp sound-shaping and interesting musical ideas. In fact, you might say that this is their most “musical” sounding release in some time…. not shying from melodic references or steady rhythmic structures as much as they seem to have in recent years (whether this was deliberate on their part, I can’t say). The first few tracks have their signature off-kilter rhythmic play, but when “known(1)” comes on, its weird bright synths and weirdo chord progressions make it easily the boldest move of theirs in some time. And it’s refreshing that for every sputtering, unpredictable exploration there is a counterpoint based in melody or texture that is somehow soothing and inviting, such as the warm welcome of “see on see.” The regular beat that’s introduced in “Treale” is a nice groundwork to appreciate the more odd sonic things happening while bobbing your head, something that I haven’t noticed on an Autechre record in a long time. In some instances I get the vaguest notion of dubstep in these tracks, but they don’t really sound anything like that genre – it’s more like a hint at awareness without pandering to the formula at all.

Move of Ten is more predictable to a certain degree, in the sense that it relies more on regular, metered rhythm as a framework and then wanders within that structure. There is less of the fully scattered spectrum of Oversteps, for example, in “pce freeze 2.8i,” which features a prominent and regular drum loop… but it still is a strange one with its atonal flourishes (oddly dissonant chords that bring to mind Penderecki). “nth Defuseder.b” sounds like Autechre piggybacked onto a Boards of Canada palette, full of airy synths and drones, little melodic touches and again a more reliable drum pattern.

It’s immensely satisfying to hear Autechre continue to refine their craft by mixing and matching between things they’ve already explored as well as introducing new elements and ideas. The two releases work well side by side as a mammoth new slab of material and are likely to top my list at the end of the year as well.

Watch/listen: “known(1)”
Watch/listen: “nth Dafuseder.b”