The closest i’ve come to a solitary road trip was last year, when i drove from the cosy shelter of the Cotswolds to the exposed shelf of the east coast. Knowing that, even if i treated the speed limit with my usual agnosticism, the drive would still take at least four hours, preparation was needed in terms of music for the journey. i’ve often noticed how the music one takes on any kind of trip or trek becomes etched into the experience, as an integral part of the memories. On this occasion, i opted for a single artist: Autechre. For once, i brought nothing else for contrast, so depending on your perspective, setting off with only Amber, Draft 7.30, LP5 and Untilted for company was either foolhardy and masochistic or courageous and exciting. Actually, i think it was all of those; and it was wonderful, consolidating my love for their work.
Their new album, Quaristice (released on 3 March, but made available on bleep.com a couple of days ago), achieves the remarkable feat of sounding at once familiar and yet also alien and strange. i admit to having read the review in the latest The Wire, but – like most reviewers these days – little was given away, so i felt pleasantly able to throw myself in at the deep end. My most immediate reaction, as one track passed to the next, was of disorientation; gone are the lengthy pieces from Untilted that evolve and judder into new contortions and patterns, replaced here with a kaleidoscope of short studies that seem to capture their essence in a less expansive, but perhaps more concentrated way (stat alert: Untilted: 8 tracks, average length 8:43; Quaristice: 20 tracks, average length 3:40). If anything, this accentuates one of their strongest attributes: the ability to surprise. There’s the impression that these are mere sound “glimpses”, yet the familiar sense of evolution persists. What is most new here are the soft-edged washes of sound that appear almost nonchalantly amidst all of the bleeps and glitches. Nothing like this has featured in their work since their earliest releases (such as “Aut Riche” on Incunabula and “Nine” on Amber), but there’s not even a trace of the banal ambient electronica sound-world; this is “grown up” ambient, of a kind Richard James would be proud. There’s real uncertainty and menace despite the reverb (“Altibzz”), as well as a superb demonstration of how compact their music can be (it’s almost Webern-like), evolving throughout (“fwzE”). In my opinion, the best track on the album occurs a little after halfway through; “Fol3” seems to combine the organic qualities of Untilted with the sheer beautiful onslaught of “Gantz Graf” (and it is simply astonishing through headphones!). There’s literally something for everyone, even those who just want to dance till dawn.
Derek Walmisley writes in his Wire review of Autechre “taking stock and surveying the terrain they’ve mapped out”, and i can see what he means. There’s a powerful sense of drawing on everything they’ve explored from Incunabula to Untilted, but there’s an equally strong sense that this is the first determined step somewhere entirely new. As far as i’m concerned, there’s nothing more exciting than that.