Review Summary: Lost and Found in Modal Harmonies
Autechre, synonymous with back-breaking rhythmic beats, cold, complex synth patterns, and an ingenious sense of electronic music composition. Rob and Sean haven't been anywhere even remotely close to the forefront of alternative electronic music in the past 20 or so years. Instead, they've been steadily releasing albums since '93 - and to say they've had an impact on the scene would be an understatement. Tracking their work from the quirky, dance-inspired Cavity Job
EP, to their most recent full-length album (and I mean full-length, this album clocks in at two hours), Exai
, one can't help but to be a tad overwhelmed. Autechre are massive, not only in their influence but in their discography. Here's the kicker: they haven't stagnated! Not once has one of their releases made me think "Well, that
didn't cover much ground". Each successive album has been grounded in a rich amount of detail, so digesting one in its entirety can be quite the task. And so it goes.
is my favorite Autechre album. Why? Before they started to incorporate the organic minimalism (heard on Oversteps
) or the insane, glitchy beats (a la Untilted
) they were somewhat organized, still minimal, and very hard-hitting. This 21st century transition happened quite fast - over two albums and a handful of EPs. Chiastic Slide
was released during this transition, along with LP5
. It's not that I dislike the abstract of Confield
or the rhythmic beast that is Draft 7.30
. And trust me, I love the ambiance of Amber
, and the cold, structured synths of Tri Repetae
Truth be told, Chiastic Slide
just found a special place in my heart with its delicate balance of being menacing and loving at the same time. Tracks like "Cichli" invite with echo-like synths and a sputtering beat. "Recury" transports one into a factory hard-at-work, the warm synth pattern lulling me off into a smiling stupor. But there are hard-hitting, dangerous tracks too - "Tewe" features an ominous soundscape and "Hub" is akin to a robotic punch in the face. Others remain unassuming, like "Pule".
If you have a short attention span I don't think Chiastic Slide
is for you. It takes time to develop, and the true beauty of any Autechre release isn't found through one or two casual listens. Most of the tracks on this bad boy exceed eight minutes. "Nuane", the closing track, surpasses the ten minute mark, never wasting a second. The compressed beat is built up with dark pads and high-pitched glitches, finally culminating in an orgiastic collage of sounds. It's then stripped down to a minimal level as each sound is given adequate time to imprint itself in the mind. "Recury" is another standout composition: ambitious, noisy, and repetitious, the subtle manipulation of sound layers, as with many songs on this LP, allows an unexpected evolution to occur.
In opposition to long, droning tracks are "Rettic AC" and "Calbruc", two songs that stand out not only for their length but for instrumentation. The latter comes in with one of the most forceful, noisy beats on the LP. Warm bells and pads join the fray - side by side, these two elements make no sense. Yet it works. "Calbruc" truly shows that Autechre are the masters of juxtaposition. Another challenging number known as "Rettic AC" demonstrates the duo's mastery over texture. While only two minutes in length, this track comes on with an extremely compressed, almost crinkling texture. The fuzzy cap of noise is then nearly forgotten about as a serene, ambient backdrop steals our attention.
"Tewe" and "Hub" showcase Autechre's capacity for injecting albums with a healthy dose of dark ambiance. Beginning with an electronic moan, "Tewe" leans on the edge of a ticking time bomb, always skittering along with steadiness. "Hub" drops the listener into a grimy computerized psychosis, its incessant pulse enough to drive one towards technophobia. With compositions like "Pule" they remain relatively unassuming. Reverb-laden, pealing beeps fill the track, and it wraps up like the end of an ambient fairytale. "Cichli" is yet another great example of a superb ending - strings overtake the song, navigating it to an angelic conclusion.
Autechre elevate IDM to a new level. Every song on Chiastic Slide
is a masterpiece in itself, only comprehendible by repetitious exposure. Each track is an enigma, in the music and the song titles themselves, as they are often based on obscure references. Take "Rettic AC": it's a straightforward abbreviation of the Reticular Activating System, a portion of the brain from which sensations of arousal and motivation originate. Or "Recury", a pun on the word mercury or recurring. Probably both.
Regardless, this LP is full of awkward bangers. Listening to it, analyzing it with other releases, and sizing it up against Exai
, we can be certain that Autechre will continue to challenge our preconceived notions about music well into this decade. After all, it's been sixteen years since the ground-breaking Chiastic Slide