As far as Autechre are concerned, perhaps the only thing more fascinating than their incremental descent into sonic pandemonium is the profound division among their admirers. Though Tri Repetae
will probably remain their most commonly lauded opus until their – as yet – unforeseeable fade from prominence, rarely if ever will you find a group with such a quality body of work, so rich in diversity that any kind of consensus is a mere pipedream. Autechre’s sixth full-length album divides enthusiasts like no other, abstract to the point where even devout fans have condemned it as a step too far. Any conversation pertaining to Autechre’s output is usually rich in superlatives and enigmatic, metaphorical interpretations, while the merits and qualities of each release are frequently contested by virtue of their cryptic nature. That is until the subject of Autechre’s most challenging creation arises, and the answer is universal.
In the wake of EP7
– which in itself was a significant departure from normality, even by Autechre’s standards – Confield
obliterated the line between method and madness, and any sense of compromise was erased entirely. Though matched in terms of rhythmic complexity by albums like Draft 7.30
, the utter bewilderment with which Confield
imbues the listener is something that remains unique to it nearly fifteen years later. The manner in which Booth and Brown achieved this is no mean feat, as contrary to what initial listens suggest, the album strictly
adheres to the principles of time and metre, albeit chopped and skewed to such a degree that they’re rendered almost unrecognisable at points. The opener “VI Scose Poise” demonstrates this as well as or better than any of the following cuts, utilising syncopation to such extremes that one could be forgiven for dismissing the song as a random succession of ball bearings descending a glass funnel.
Autechre’s fervent for hiding consonance among chaos may be vividly apparent here, but neither to the point of fixation nor to the detriment of the album’s variety. A lot of tracks here are relatively minimal, building upon subtly evolving rhythms with sparse synth lines, depressive melodies and an assortment of atonal nuances, pulses and drones. “Sim Gishel” and “Uviol” both revolve around singular motifs for upwards of seven and eight minutes respectively, inducing trance-like states while various accents incrementally slip in and out of frame. However, while these cuts may be comparatively stripped-down, they seldom provide a sense of calm, and instead further the cold, alien, extra-dimensional atmosphere that is so categorically off-putting to some. Even “Eidetic Casein”, by far the most upbeat song on the album, has its share of sinister eccentricities, only made to seem endearing by the content that bookends it. This effect is a substantial part of Confield’s
Throughout the hour-plus runtime, the listener is conditioned to find beauty in what would otherwise be considered unpalatable. In this case, a track like “Pen Expers” is pure indulgence. A melodic synth line is vaguely obscured by a frenetic, bitcrushed beat, and the two are seemingly locked into a conflict in which neither has the means to overpower the other. This struggle for supremacy gives the impression of instability, as if the song is on the precipice of collapsing. That is before the synth line subsides and the beat rapidly disintegrates, suggesting that the apparent furore may actually have been what maintained the balance. Contrast this approach with tracks like “Bine” and the closer “Lentic Catachresis”, which operate similarly to “VI Scose Poise” in terms of rhythm but are heavily layered and significantly denser as a result. It’s during these tightly coiled numbers that showcase Autechre at their perplexing best, and illustrate why Confield
is and always will be a landmark release in terms of both composition and production.
There is no definitive way to describe an album like Confield
, although something akin to “a body of work comprised of paradoxes” will have to suffice. It would also be convenient to say that the most arduous songs are the most rewarding in the end, but the truth is that each cut on Confield
is as integral as the next, and the album’s diversity is just as critical to the experience as the sheer quality of its content. As novel a piece of work as you will ever come across, perhaps it’s no surprise that even its creators haven’t been able to replicate it.