Concerning Autechre, perhaps the only thing more fascinating than their music’s descent into quasi-formlessness is the division among their admirers. Though Tri Repetae
will probably remain their most widely lauded opus until their – as yet – unforeseeable fade from prominence, rarely will you find a group with such a quality body of work, so rich in diversity that it totally eludes a consensus favourite. Autechre’s sixth full-length album divides enthusiasts like no other, abstract to the point that even devout fans have condemned it as a step too far. Conversation relating to the duo’s output is usually rich in superlatives and enigmatic, metaphorical interpretations, while the merits of each release are often contested because 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 was in itself a departure from normality – Confield
obliterated the line between method and madness, and any sense of compromise was erased entirely. Though later albums like Draft 7.30
may be, technically, just as accomplished, the bewilderment that Confield
imbues the listener with is something that remains unique to it nearly fifteen years later. The opener “VI Scose Poise” demonstrates this as well as – or even better than – any of the following cuts, syncopated to such an extreme that you’d be forgiven for dismissing the song as a collection of ball bearings jostling about a glass bowl. The manner in which Booth and Brown achieve this is no mean feat as, contrary to what first impressions suggest, the album strictly adheres to the principles of time and metre – albeit chopped and skewed to a degree that they’re, at points, rendered almost unrecognisable. It’s so far removed from convention that most would hesitate to call it music, but far too conscious of its workings to be considered noise or experimental-for-the-sake-of-it. It bends, warps and twists the rules, all while tangentially obeying them, never transgressing to the point that any are outright broken.
While Autechre’s penchant for hiding consonance amid chaos may be apparent, it neither detracts from the album’s variety, nor does it irritate. A lot of tracks here are surprisingly 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, inducing trance-like states while minutia incrementally slips in and out of fame. However, while these cuts may be stripped-down, they seldom provide a sense of calm, and instead further the cold, alien, extra-dimensional atmosphere that is so off-putting to some. There is a distance and loneliness to these songs that’s never manifested in Autechre’s work since, even as technology continues to advance and the complexity is – bit by bit – dialled up on each instalment. Even “Eidetic Casein”, by far the most upbeat song on the album, has its fair share of sinister eccentricities, only made to seem endearing by the content that bookends it.
This effect is a critical part of the album’s allure.
conditions the listener to find beauty in what would otherwise seem grotesque, with the exemplar being the third track, “Pen Expers”. A melodic synth line is obscured by a frenetic, bit-crushed beat, and the two are seemingly locked in a musical phone booth, competing for space that just isn’t there. As the struggle turns violent, the song is seemingly on the precipice of collapsing. That is before the synth line subsides and the beat rapidly disintegrates – having gone mad and expired, as though neither could exist without that which they destroyed in a panic. Contrast this approach with tracks like “Bine” and “Lentic Catachresis”, which are rhythmically similar to “VI Scose Poise” but are significantly denser and almost claustrophobic to listen to. There is no duality at play here, nor any reprieve to latch on to once everything is in motion; these tracks simply overwhelm and force you to embrace the rhythmic bedlam. These tightly coiled sequences are what showcase the duo at their best; while lesser artists forgo technique in pursuit of effect, Autechre embrace it with zeal. Everything you hear from them, no matter your take on the presentation, was intended to sound exactly as is, illustrating 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 work comprised of paradoxes” will have to suffice. It’s beautifully ugly, effortlessly unnatural, emotive yet completely inorganic, etc. It also would be cliché – yet oh-so convenient – to say that the most arduous songs are the most rewarding in the end, because the truth is that each cut on Confield
is as integral as the next, and the album’s diversity is just as crucial to the experience as the 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.