earinfluxion

earinfluxion

24 January 2017

Autechre:
elseq 1-5 (Autechre)

I’m
late to the party, but when Autechre put out a quintuple album, a
proper writeup takes significant time! elseq 1-5 is certainly an
undertaking. Over their 25+ year career, the Sheffield duo have
progressed from exploring the nascent sounds of early UK techno and
IDM to truly foraging the outermost limits of electronic and dance
music. While one might argue that it’s been decades since they’ve
really explored obvious dance music, it’s the lack of obviousness
that makes their skimming off of dance music for their own devices so
masterful and noteworthy. Listening to the first cut of elseq 1-5 and
you may beg to differ: indeed, “feed1,” one of the only cuts they
previewed before they released this on their own store, is about as
far from regular, danceable rhythm than they’ve ever been. Over 11.5
minutes of sputtering synthesis, colliding, thudding bass kicks, and
woozy mixing, it debunks the notion that their turn of the century
work such as 2001’s Confield are their most “difficult” — incidentally, a return to Confield with the perspective of time has revealed it to be far more conventional than it once may have seemed. It’s
both curious and obvious that they would lead with “feed1,”
though. It lets people know that despite the career-spanning synergy
of 2013’s Exai, which touched on musicality and rhythm more overtly
than they had in ages, they are still fearless. And that includes
being unafraid to rub people’s noses in their most noodly and wanky
material, a sputtering sprawl. Fear not, because things look up from
there. Consider “feed1” less of a pleasant listening experience
and more of a palate cleanser, or perhaps an exercise in endurance.
The four other cuts that comprise the remainder of the first part of
elseq are more to my liking, fusing together the unusual staggered
layering of drums and noise that has characterized so much of their
later output with an almost head-bob-worthy flow. Some of these might
be the closest companions to the most out there moments of their
Oversteps/Move of Ten dual companion releases from several years ago.
And yet as I try to describe the sounds herein, that’s the slippery
thing about Autechre. They sound in some ways as they always have, or
similar to how they’ve sounded before. And yet totally different,
clearly a different animal by context and juxtaposition despite some
similarities.

The most distinct likeness between elseq and Exai or
L-Event is their use of zippy, often atonal synthesis, often with
shuddering choruses and reverb that twitch unpredictably, giving the
sounds a nervous energy that can sometimes feel downright frantic.
There’s a swelling of their synths that feels more like a living
organism at times, a wobble that has nothing to do with dubstep and
everything to do with disorientation. Regardless of what camp
listeners fall into, I think the same takeaway will apply to most:
“What the hell did I just listen to?” Four hours and 21 tracks
combined, elseq 1-5 is as uncompromising a slab of new work as
Autechre could aspire to. And that is commendable, diving headlong
deeper into their own weirdness and curiosity rather than resorting
to watering down their sound. (And yet sometimes I wonder: what would
an Autechre album that returns to dance music conventions sound like? I suspect
something like Akkord…?) “Pendulu hv moda” has a cool buoyancy
amidst its wavering synths and zaps, a downtempo groove to steady its
otherwise airy and glitchy swaths of synths. The second act is
comprised of only 3 cuts, the first a 27-minute jam around a
semi-regular glitchy hihat (if you will) pattern. Even at its most
deconstructed, it still has the lurching underpinnings of a steady
groove. Halfway through it sputters into a squall of bleeps and
signals that feels like a machine’s REM sleep, and the evolution is
so gradual and steady that it might not be obvious at first that a
listener’s ended up so far from where he/she started. It starts to
feel overly academic in writing when contrasting a field of aural
laser zaps with a series of bleeps or writhing squiggles elsewhere,
but in practice “elyc6 0nset” feels more organic than academic,
like David Tudor’s heaving electronic organisms of the past. It’s
long enough and broad enough to feel like a full live session of its
own. In that same sense, the whole of elseq feels like a rare treat
of a capture of an even more expansive live set, and much of its
thudding kicks and syncopated asymmetry recalls that disorienting
vibe that they brought to live shows last year. But this feels even
more nuanced and exploratory, formally leaving conventional media
behind and releasing these as a large digital wallop (though each
segment would fit on a CD of its own), sort of an Autechre without
boundaries. “Chimer 1-5-1” has a somewhat familiar boom-clap-clap
rhythm about it, feeling more akin to some of MoveOfTen’s punchier
moments. “c7b2” feels like an alien groove, and you can
practically hear the duo riffing off one another as a sort of call
and response, with a sputtering, digital havoc that feels raucous and
fun. The final section, elseq 5, is perhaps the most balanced of all,
combining dynamics heard across the other sections but perhaps
feeling a little more restrained in comparison. I especially like the
jerky breaks of “spaces how V” and then surprisingly steady throb
of “freulaeux,” the latter of which is supremely satisfying after
hearing the duo sprawl in every direction but “regular.” (Don’t
get me wrong — it still has their signature shudder, but its techno
underpinnings feel warmly welcome to these ears.) If there is
anything Autechre cannot be accused of, it’s underdelivering. With
its five acts, elseq 1-5 is a mammoth artistic statement that puts
Exai to shame with its scale and scope. It’s inordinately hard to
digest as one body of work, and it doesn’t need to be; its five
segments help divvy it up in ways that ought to make it more
approachable for listeners, even if it’s a far cry from the
accessibility of their mid-90s Warp days. They continue to hone their
craft, and, while it may be progressively more challenging to not
repeat themselves, the nuanced and often unpredictable maneuvering
throughout elseq 1-5 makes it a fascinating and dense listen. Highly
recommended for anyone curious about the outer limits of beatmaking
and IDM, far removed from its origins but not completely.

Preview and buy it: Autechre Shop

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