I was listening to the car radio last week, and an electronica track was played, one that left me expostulating to Mrs. Barre (who was driving), to the effect that this sort of digital easy listening gets on my nerves. It turned out to be the third number on the latest Autechre outing, ‘si00′ (idiosyncratically described in this month’s Wire magazine as “electronic xylophone bongo bounce”), being a typically snappily oblique title by the Rochdale duo. “I thought you liked Autechre?” Jackie helpfully pointed out. “I do”, I responded, “but I’m a bit baffled. This sounds very middle of the road for them”. I later described the album on YouTube, after a couple of cursory listenings, as “Popul Vuh for Generation Z”, not a particularly accurate summation, however, since they’ve been giving us their work for nigh on 30 years (they’ve seen us through both Generations X and Y.)
My overall impression is that it is a continuation of a direction that Autechre have been gradually taking, that of a smoother, less fractured soundfield. The peak of their work, for me, is the album ‘run’ of Tri Repetae, Untilted, Chiastic Slide, LP5, Confield and Draft 7.30 (1993-2003), certifiable classics that explored ‘fucked-up beats’ to their, and our hearts, content. The new one, SIGN, seems to acknowledge their legacy of cubist dance music on a few tracks, but ‘expands’ (or ‘contracts’, even?) into a more keyboard-washed sound (hence the Popul Vuh comparison.) If I was subject to a ‘blindfold test’, I’d probably have it down as an offspring of Cosmik Music/Krautrock, to be honest. No bad thing in itself, but a far cry from their canonical 90s material. I have to admit to not having really followed Autechre since 2013′s double, Exai, as Rob and Sean seem to have decided to monumentalise their output through gargantuan projects such as elseq 1-5 and the NTS 8-discbox-set, as well as ambitious streaming projects, which demand many hours of commitment from the listener, for even a single listen. The tyranny of choice writ large.
Now they are back in a more easily digested form, in 2020, with apparently another disc coming out in November. Their huge output remains impressive, and contrasts with the relatively minimal release schedule of their contemporary duo, Boards of Canada, and we are lucky to still have them. I can’t see me realistically listening too often to SIGN, but I have just ordered a copy of William Basinski’s newie, Lamentations, which I think, very curiously, seems not a million miles away from Autechre’s new environments. Whatever and all, for me there have been so few recent recording milestones since Covid-19 (Rough and Rowdy Ways, Run the Jewels 4?), that it is just great to have a few to discuss and/or fulminate about. It would be nice to have a new Richard Dawson, to take but one from my Xmas wish list.