Review Summary: An interesting listen which rewards repeated plays, however it is certainly not for everyone.
It's a shame that Autechre were tagged with the horrid label of "IDM" and were lumped in with the rest of the geeky bedroom music crowd, particularly when artistic statements like Confield
prove them to be wildly distinctive and different from their peers. Having started out as an already distinct ambient electronic act in the early 90's, Autechre first became well known for their 1995 album Tri Repetae
, which attracted very positive reviews from critics and fans alike. However if this is the Autechre you know and are comfortable with, then be warned before listening to Confield
: This is very difficult and unfriendly music, and most likely wildly different to anything you have ever heard.
Some would probably struggle to call many parts of this album "music" and would likely dismiss it as boring and excessively chaotic, with little "human" elements. If you feel this is how you'd react, then this album probably isn't for you. However, if you feel you maintain a musically open mind, then you're likely in for a listen that at the very least is something you probably have never heard before.
The sound on the album can not be easily classified is for two reasons. The first is that each track makes a different statement about Autechre's music, and does so in different ways. The second is that the sound, at all times, remains incredibly abstract, though occasionally presents itself as more rational to help integrate the listener into Confield's
complex, alien sound. A good example of this is found on the second track Cfern
: The song, compared to the rest of the album, is one of the most "normal" tracks here, and features instruments which we are familiar with (such as a piano) juxtaposed with an incredibly complicated drum pattern and a deep, evolving synthesiser line. In the background, perfectly calculated electronic sounds click and whirr, but refrain from sounding clichéd in the slightest - instead they evoke interest at their abstract and alien nature. On the surface, they do not seem to be present and could be dismissed as background noises. However, if you focus on them, you realise their integral role to the track, and realise that without them, the track would not be the same at all. Such is the nature of Autechre's music - there are constantly many subtle layers to their tracks, all of which interact with each other. For instance, say the volume on a synthesiser is altered - this could trigger a different sound or change the timbre of an existing element in the track; or perhaps every 5 hits of the snare triggers a different note on a synthesiser. These examples are all part of what makes Confield
such a deep and rewarding listen, and contributes significantly to its high re-playability factor.
There are little "proper" melodies on the album, which for some I can imagine results in a general lack of feeling and human presence. Rather, most melodic movement is implied, whilst rarely being obvious (which could be said about many elements of Confield). Pen Expers
demonstrates this, in what is perhaps the most accessible moment of the album. As the track gears towards a climax, a very subtle chord progression enters the mix, constantly punctured by the erratic but perfectly precise drum pattern, which builds until it sits in the mix to serve as the peak in the track, the overall impression evoking imagery of a roof caving in on a room, while a light shines through the gaps created in this collapse. This example remains the only image of "light" on this album however; the remainder is considerably cold and alienating.
works best as an entire work - think of it like a picture. Listening to it out of order is like looking at a jumbled version of a picture, while skipping tracks is like cutting pieces out of it. No single track maintains a consistent mood all the way through and as such, tracks flow into each other through feeling rather than shared musical traits, which maintains my view of the album best being experienced as a whole. Though some tracks may feature a consistent element throughout (such as a beat or effect), other parts of the song will evolve throughout to create a variety of feelings, which, in the case of Confield
, are almost exclusively dark and foreboding. Bine
, for instance, assaults you with an incredibly complex and chaotic rhythm of totally abstract percussive sounds, all of which rush by so fast, you don't have time to comprehend each individual sound, which indeed would be pointless - none of them can be identified as familiar percussive sounds such as a kick or snare drum. Autechre demonstrate their mastery of digital signal processing here to create a rhythmic section which is never repetitive - it bubbles, creaks and trips over itself on top of menacing and suspenseful chords, delivered from a synthesiser that sounds as if it is breathing fire...in your direction. If there were a musical equivalent to being attacked by a swarm of thousands of different insects, I can imagine Bine
would be very close to being it.
One particular moment of Confield
that feels uncomfortably out of place is Eidetic Casein
. Though not a bad track in any respects, its position on the album disrupts the flow a little and makes it significantly more light-hearted, which I feel may have been Warp records attempting to make the album a bit more friendly to the casual listener. It acts as somewhat of a breather from the tense and unforgiving arrangements present on the album, however for hardcore Autechre fans, the album presses on to successfully prove that it can remain consistent throughout - the final two tracks do not deviate from the quality of the album, all the while presenting new ideas to a work which already has plenty.
For me, Lentic Catachresis
remains the definitive track on Confield
, and as the last track, summarises what the album is about whilst offering something that is still unique from the rest of the album. The track misleads you into thinking it will be a standard affair, a relatively simple drum beat carries heavily processed vocals, churning synthesisers and a few bass notes. You then realise that this is Autechre you're listening to, and you focus a bit. You notice the drums are actually constantly changing. Every so often, the kick drum is bouncing around as if it were being dropped on the ground, and the whole song is subtly slowing down, then gaining speed again. This starts to get more and more extreme and noticeable. Tension builds...and then my favourite moment on the whole album occurs: The drums just trip up and all hell breaks loose...sounds are flying at you, the kick drum is pummelling your speakers and all the elements of the song are washing around. This continues into the extreme, the whole song sounds as if it has melted - nothing is coherent any more, it is absolutely chaotic. Shattered fragments of the song are being tossed around, like they are in a blender. This goes on for about 4 minutes but does not get repetitive in the slightest, things start to creak and moan...and then it just ends. You are left with silence to contemplate what you have just heard.
Indeed, it is very easy to pass latter-period Autechre off as just noise and chaos, and honestly, I understand why people do. Confield
is certainly not for everyone, and even those it may suit may absolutely hate it on the first few listens. For me, it took a good year or so to fully appreciate, though I wouldn't deny it has its flaws. Autechre constantly create unique textures and tone colours that you probably never thought were possible, which makes it all the more intriguing. It also works as an excellent introduction to 2003's Draft 7.30
, in which almost every sound is unrecognisable, no sound can simply be identified as "a drum" or "a synth" yet it maintains a fresh and different approach to Confield
. Overall, this album is highly recommended to anyone interested in hearing something different, just don't expect yourself to like it as much as I do now after just one listen.