Autechre

Best Albums of 2008

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* Please note this list has how been superseded by the one on the Best Albums of the Years page *

It’s been difficult deciding what i feel are the best albums of 2008. Partly, because i’ve listened to so many (of the 667 albums i’ve listened to this year, 141 of them were released in 2008), but also because i’m conscious of a number of albums that i haven’t yet listened to, and which could well appear in this list. Anyhow, all lists of this kind are provisional, so as things stand today, here are the 5:4 Best Albums of 2008:

40 | Squarepusher – Just A Souvenir
On the one hand, this album isn’t as successful as Squarepusher’s last and best album, Hello Everything. On the other hand, Tom Jenkinson is just so talented that even failed experiments like this are better than most. Quite what led him to resurrect 70s electronics and seek to incorporate it into his style is anyone’s guess, but he’s hardly alone in doing so. At times it’s downright annoying, and overall there’s a diminished sense of unity across the album; yet tracks like “Tensor in Green” and “Quadrature” are brilliant demonstrations of the kind of synthesis of which Jenkinson is capable.

39 | Nurse With Wound – Huffin’ Rag Blues
NWW have turned down the absurdism somewhat on this release, allowing the jazz inflections to come through unfettered. Nonetheless, there’s still sufficient surreal juxtaposition of material for this to be a superbly eclectic electroacoustic outing. “The Funktion of the Hairy Egg” is especially effective, and the outstanding track on this disc, which also features irr. app. (ext.)’s Matt Waldron and is mixed by Andrew Liles.

38 | Gregor Samsa – Rest
Another great album from this band, who are able to sound simultaneously languorous and ecstatic. At times it’s a little too shoegaze for its own good, but most of the album is particularly effective, and sometimes strikingly delicate. The vocals, in particular, are often ethereal to the point of becoming inaudible, providing a wonderful mysterious surface beneath which the textures can drift and intermingle.

37 | Byetone – Death Of A Typographer
Despite being fairly typical Raster-Noton material, this album displays real variety, encompassing lovely ambient episodes along with the familiar glitchy electronica. There’s a markedly industrial tone to the beats, but they’re delivered with such panache that they never feel oppressive. It also lacks the coldness that seems to accompany, say, Alva Noto’s recent material (although, having said that, i really liked this year’s Unitxt, despite it not appearing in this list); this is surprisingly light and warm dance music.

36 | AGF – Words Are Missing
A rapid, insistent album, with Antye Greie’s voice (along with pretty much all other sounds) fragmented into a myriad shards. The constructions she makes from these pieces are consistently engaging, while not perhaps representing the best of her work; at times, the music are off-puttingly minimalistic. Nonetheless, the deep beats that permeate the tracks give them a potent physicality that is infectious; and, as in “Dread In Strangers Eyes”, influences of musique concrète and collage-like techniques give the album a fascinating variety.

35 | Ladytron – Velocifero
There are distinct traces of Curve in Ladytron’s latest release, which is most definitely no bad thing. This is particularly the case with “Runaway”, recently released as a single and easily the best track on the album. First and foremost, though, Ladytron have brought out their best album to date, filled with dirty, somewhat languid rock-tronica.

34 | Deerhoof – Offend Maggie
i wrote about this album back in October, and my initial disappointment about this album has, to some extent, given way to (i hope) a deeper appreciation. It still doesn’t quite capture the unbridled fire and passion of Friend Opportunity, but there’s a maturity present here that perhaps i wasn’t expecting. A flawed masterpiece it may be, but any group or album that can come up with a track as astonishing as “Jagged Fruit” is nothing less than brilliant.

33 | Stephan Mathieu – Radioland
A curious assemblage of thoughtful meditations, this is ambient from a more heavyweight perspective. At least, that’s the way it comes across, like vast heavy nimbus clouds, their complex inner structures ever shifting. The result is powerfully hypnotic, and often very beautiful, particularly “Auf der Gasse”.

32 | Implex Grace – Through Luminescent Passages II
i wrote a fair bit about this release back in November, so i won’t repeat that here. Since then Michael Goodman has made it clear to me that what i perceived as a lack of direction is something quite intentional on his part, and while i’m prepared to accept that, the brevity of the tracks, i feel, still militates against the kind of ‘meditative’ state he desires. All the same, it’s still an interesting counterpart to volume 1, focusing more on the noise end of the ambient continuum. It’s still available free of charge, here, in FLAC and mp3 formats, direct from Goodman’s netlabel, Distance Recordings.

31 | Ran Slavin – Nocturnal Rainbow Rising
Ran Slavin’s latest release is another free download, from the excellent Crónica netlabel. It’s a disc that demonstrates real skill at shaping sound, as well as formidable restraint, the tracks given space to develop at their own pace, never seeming forced along. Its use of bass frequencies to punctuate the material is very striking; “Pure Honey in Lack One” is perhaps the best example.

30 | Specta Ciera – Mystic Valley Parkway
Yet another free album, released through Distance Recordings, and available here. This is music reassuringly difficult to categorise, bringing together diverse sound sources into a melange within which they briefly become obvious before being re-absorbed. At times (“I Lost The Dream Archive”) it becomes really breathtaking, dazzling the ear with its restless activity. Read more

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Versions, versions everywhere (plus a red herring): Autechre – Quaristice.Quadrange.ep.ae

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Early yesterday morning, after a number of the wrong kind of glitches at Bleep.com, the final tracks of Autechre‘s Quaristice.Quadrange.ep.ae became available. Versions, versions everywhere: and with this—after 44 tracks, totalling almost 5 hours—i think one can assume that the Quaristice project is at an end. i, for one, have found it to be a fascinating and thoughtful journey. As a whole, the project poses the question of whether any of the tracks from the original release should be regarded as ‘definitive’, or instead that all of the versions are different but equally significant expressions of a common (or even an uncommon) idea. My impression is that both contain some truth; there’s clearly some connection intended to be made, as the track titles bear similarities that invite comparison. Like its predecessor, Quaristice (Versions), then, this album may be heard both in its own context, as well as the wider one encompassing all three Quaristice releases. Read more

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Mixtape #5 : Beats

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If music was my first love, then my fascination with rhythm was the first part of that attraction; beat-driven music—particularly early hip-hop and electro—dominated my earliest teenage years. My taste in beats has evolved since that time, of course, and the selection represented here (which may well come as little surprise to regular readers) is a selection of relatively recent music. Each of them has something distinctive, something that separates it from the terrible plethora of dance music that predominates the current musical landscape (at least, the popular landscape); each of them, too, is in my opinion one of the very best tracks by that artist. Read more

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Autechre, and the Question of Quaristice

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Prior to the launch of Quaristice, Autechre‘s Sean Booth said the following, in an interview with Clash Magazine, concerning the issue of whether to buy the digital download or the physical CD:

It makes no odds to me. Actually, it does; I’d prefer (people) to download it than buy it physically. It fits our agenda much better that way. Our plan has never been to produce CDs – it’s always been about making music. If there’s a way of charging for it and getting the content to people, then we’ll adopt whichever is the most transparent. The actual product is the FLAC file – but I don’t object to those who want to own something that they can hold.

In itself, this is a valuable and thought-provoking addition to the debate which has been rearing up increasingly often over the last few years. But returning to this specific example, i think one needs to consider Booth’s comments in the light of the fact that Quaristice has been released in two editions, the latter of which – including a bonus CD of re-worked and alternative versions of the tracks on the main album – was a limited edition of only 1,000 copies, with no digital download option. Is it me, or is there a contradiction here? That tracks of such quality and importance – both within Autechre’s oeuvre and electronic music more widely – should be denied to the majority of their listeners seems clearly at odds with Sean Booth’s intentions. If we are to take Booth at his word, that Autechre is only concerned with “making music” and getting it out by “the most transparent” methods possible, it’s ridiculous to release a special edition of the album in this way. Furthermore, copies are already appearing on eBay for sums well in excess of £100 (they were sold for £25), which makes Autechre’s claimed intentions even more ludicrous. Of course, the special edition could be a ruse by Warp to increase interest and generate extra income; but somehow i doubt it, as Warp has always (seemed to) put its artists’ intentions as paramount. Read more

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Mixtape #2 : Late Night (again)

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While it’s not my intention to create a series of mixtape each intended to be listened to late at night, this new mix again has that in mind. Perhaps i’m just drawn to nocturnal kinds of music; or perhaps it is i that is nocturnal and not the music. Either way, i think the following selection is particularly special during the darkest hours of night. Everything comes from my listening within the last few months, 60 minutes of music stitched together with the remarkable loops that are embedded within the equally remarkable Buddha Machine. Enjoy…

Here’s the full tracklisting: Read more

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The (very welcome) shock of the new: Autechre – Quaristice

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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. Read more

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Dancing (kind of) and drifting (ish): Stravinsky, Autechre, The Orb

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IDM is to dance music as Stravinsky is to instrumental music; discuss. Well, not exactly, but it strikes me there’s something of a similarity, particularly in the way that the underlying pulse is fragmented into irregular metres. This is probably why i love IDM (and Stravinsky) so much, although i’m more concerned in my own music to violate the underlying pulse itself (which few composers seem to want to do). For me, Autechre are the paradigm of this, deconstructing rhythm into its component parts and setting up weird, mutated versions that evolve into something else (often even stranger). Untilted – which i was listening to earlier in the car – has to be the IDM album par excellence, with the opening and closing tracks being arguably the best; “LCC” becomes weird and wonderful about 2-and-a-half minutes in; “Sublimit” becomes amazing around six-and-a-half minutes in; but they’re both brilliant throughout.

Over the last couple of days, during some much longer car journeys, i’ve been re-visiting an old classic: The Orb‘s Adventures In The Ultraworld. Back when i was a recalcitrant sixth-former, i used to spend my free periods at the record shop in town, and it was there i heard this album playing, back goodness knows when, and a friend and i bought a copy each. Goodness knows how many years later, i’m not sure how well it’s aged. My composition teacher during my degree told me “one doesn’t finish a composition, one just stops working on it”. While i fundamentally disagree with this, it kind of sums up how the conclusion to each half of this album sounds, dragged out for far too long, structure falling apart at the seams, meandering who knows where for who knows how long. i think when this came out (1991, i just checked), it was probably its novelty that saw it through; certainly, i’d never heard anything quite like it. There’s much about it i still really like, but now, i think something is lost.

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