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Author: Andrez Bergen
Monday, March 6, 2006
Experimental electronica and easy-listening fluff are like chalk and cheese - and the new album by English outfit Autechre, a.k.a. Rob Brown and Sean Booth, is likely to extend the abyss.

Elevator muzak "Untitled" most definitely is not. Expanding upon Autechre's blueprint in "Chiastic Slide" almost a decade ago, the new album smacks you round from its opening dischordant bars. Fluent timelines and grooves are not the duo's intent here, and the uninitiated may be excused for wondering why it's all so bleak; why there's a ringing sense of anger and anarchy throughout.

Certainly you could read connections with early experimenters in abstract electronic music like John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen, but that's beside the point. Autechre take it all leagues further, depth-charging into their compositions drillcore synths and rabid robotic jazz elements that underscore dadaesque staccato snares as dazzling as they can be bewildering.

While second track "Ipacial Section" may batter you somewhat senseless, later number "Augmatic Disport" dissembles drum & bass and throws in a disturbingly infectious, mind-bending, scatterlogical groove for good measure - then imagine it all played in reverse.

Yet despite the apparent ire, clashing rhythm structures, and fatalistic bent behind Autechre's music, the truth is that one half of the outfit - Rob Brown - is quite fond of fun in the music he personally tunes into. "There's a lot of humor in the stuff I listen to, and that's a positive thing," he stressed over the phone recently in the midst of Autechre's North American tour. "And I absolutely loved the early Wagon Christ stuff by Luke Vibert - it explored completely new terrain."

It's also clear that Brown sees his own new album in a warmer light. In an interview that appeared on the BBC's Collective website, Brown described "Untilted" as "warmer, tougher, and more sensitive all in one."

Brown evinced a refreshing lack of conceit, let alone esoteric self-indulgence, when I reminded him. "Oh yeah," he chuckled. "That was totally what I thought at the time! I haven't had a chance to think about it much since!"

Autechre have been crafting albums together since the heady post-natal days of experimental British electronica in the early '90s, and emerged from a bevy of like-minded purveyors including Vibert, Mike Paradinas, Cylob, Si Begg, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, LFO and the Coldcut/Hexstatic posse, on labels like Warp, Ninja Tune, Blue Angel, Mo'Wax and Rephlex.

While a more minimal, organic approach typified the duo's earlier albums "Incunabula" (1993) and "Amber" the following year, by "Tri Repetae" (1995) Autechre had begun to embrace a more claustrophobic and cataclysmic take on electronica, while "Chiastic Slide" (1997) was downright menacing - full of epileptic sound asides and intense tectonic disruptions in the lower frequencies.

"Untilted" - an album some near-sighted journalists have mistakenly called "Untitled" ("You'd be surprised how many people read it that way," Brown quipped) - was made relatively quickly compared with its predecessors, and for good reason. "I started a family last year," Brown said, "so Sean and I had to compress our time together. We spent less time in the studio, but actually that made us capitalize on the time we did have together. And I think that added focus comes across as a strength of the album."

Autechre's music is a serious issue to some, and the Internet is loaded with listeners' analyses of Autechre records. "I guess if you read chat-sites online, you'll find that some kids do think they have it all worked out," Brown mused. "But I think most things, including our music, should be kept open to further discussion - different people have different impressions or reactions to different things, you know-"

As it happens, Autechre's latest tour is the duo's first fully-fledged effort in over two years, and after more than 20 dates in North America their<