Autechre

Elseq 1-5

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Released in digital formats only, Autechre's twelfth album is mammoth. With over four hours of music split into five discrete parts (with each available for separate purchase), it is more than twice as long as 2013's Exai, their previous longest album to date. Freed from the constraints of the physical format, these masters of electronic sound design are able to really stretch out. The album unfurls languidly, and several of the tracks clock in at over 20 minutes, with the longest topping out at nearly half-an-hour in length. Although their first love was electro, Autechre have long had more in common with noise music, sound art, and avant-garde classical (particularly musique concrète) than with any contemporary dance music scene. There is still rhythm and melody in their sound -- most of these tracks have something resembling a beat, but it's often fractured, arrhythmic, and time-stretched in such a way that you'd break yourself if you tried to dance to it. This material often sounds like a lengthy, semi-improvised jam, except performed using digital signal processing techniques rather than any traditional musical instruments. Even the most die-hard Autechre fan is going to find getting through this album in one sitting hard going, so it's convenient that it's divided into five parts, each about the length of a traditional album, and, roughly speaking, with its own particular feel. Part 1 has some of the most abrasive and densely textured material on the album. Parts 2 and 4 are more "traditionally" rhythmic, while Parts 3 and 5 are the most melodic, slower and more cinematic, even ambient at times. It's almost impossible to pick highlights from an album like this, but "spTh" is particularly atmospheric and sinister in its implacability, its ruptured, insectoid beat foregrounded over high-pitched, glassine tones and grinding, metallic chords. The drawn-out, muted shuffle of "elyc6 0nset" has its own alien beauty, like a threnody for modem and hard drive. Ambient epic "eastre" has a portentous, cinematic feel, like floating in a self-propelled robotic craft over the ruined landscape of a blasted earth. Closer "oneum" sounds like music written for a 23rd century Sistine Chapel, as fluttering shards of dissonant pipe organ chords, drenched in reverb, dance about the great vaulted space. By this point, Autechre have long since been preaching to the choir, and this album is not going to change anyone's mind. Those who view them as self-indulgent pranksters will have their biases confirmed, as will those who revere them as innovative geniuses. As a reference point for fans, it's probably fair to say that this album falls somewhere between the lush ambience of Amber and the disorienting spatial distortions of Confield, with a dose of Chiastic Slide's bitcrushed beats. Those new to Autechre might be best off starting with their earlier material, and working their way up to this gradually -- or else diving in headfirst here and preparing for a long, strange trip.

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