Review Summary: Incunabula is an intricate enigma that visits the unexplored depths of electronic music.
Autechre are trailblazers of intelligent dance music. This fascinating electronic duo has succeeded in creating some of the most forward-thinking and clever music. On the duo's first LP, Incunabula, Autechre forge a laid-back but committed sonic episode. Incunabula can be approached in various ways, but paying close attention to its subtleties yields the most riveting results.
Incunabula can serve as calming background music, but it can also provide an engaging headphone experience. After listening to the album in these different ways, I would definitely call this a multipurpose album. However, when I listen through headphones and dedicate all of my attention to the music itself, I feel like I am being swept away by an unescapable current. Nevertheless, this album endures a series of transformations throughout its duration that keep the album from feeling claustrophobic.
Many of the tracks truly evolve, especially some of the longer tracks like "Windwind" and "Bike". "Windwind", for instance. begins as an ambient track that is soon uprooted by a bizarre grouping of beats. It takes almost the entire song for these beats to adequately complement one another and, as a result, the track feels like it is growing in size each minute. On the other hand, there are moments in which the music feels static and practically immobile like the engrossing "Kalpol Introl". This provides a careful balance on a record that manages to prevent itself from tripping over its own feet. In addition, Incunabula is incredibly abstract. It seems to hold back on displaying its character and this produces an air of mystery. However, the album is far from formless.
While there are standout tracks on this album, the album is better viewed as a singular body. In this way, some of the tracks begin to make a bit more sense. "Basscadet" is one of the album's most cathartic tracks, exploding with engrossing percussion and perfectly fitting vocal samples. As the vocals state, it's hard to figure out what's is going on in this track, but Autechre certainly engages in some vigorous exploration. The messy quality of the track enhances its impulsiveness and thrives on utter disarray. "Eggshell" is a more controlled but forceful brand of dance music that responds to the previous track with more conviction. Like a few other tracks on this LP, this song infiltrates the unvisited corners of electronica.
Incunabula is not only mystifying, but it also is extremely cerebral. Autechre fosters some of the most perceptive soundscapes through sprawling synthesizers and computer effects that coat the surfaces of tracks like "Maetl". Additionally, the gentle touch of keyboards in "Lowride" polish the surrounding environment and depict a large degree of production finesse. This LP can also be demanding. Discovering the secrets of Incunabula requires effort from the listener. After revisiting the album multiple times, I was able to appreciate the cogency of "444", the closing track which presents a couple different faces, one being a dark, haunting entity skulking in the haze of suppressed robotic percussion and the other being a bright reformation that represents light at the end of the tunnel.
Autechre's debut is more intellectual than emotional, but its mysteries are best unraveled with an open mind. Its intent remains an enigma, but its penetrating effects and textures make it easier to pinpoint the source of this confusion. The beats are distinguished and the progression varies for each track. However, the LP's greatest strength is the breathing room it provides for the music. Some tracks spread their wings and mesmerize the listener while others step back and allow the mind to wander. Ultimately, it's up to the listener to unveil Incunabula's secrets. No one said it would be easy.