Autechre are an endlessly evolving outfit. Since their 1987 inception, as pioneers of what came to be known as IDM or “intelligent dance music”, Rob Brown and Sean Booth have launched a torrent of challenging music, keeping their fans and followers guessing from one release to the next. Where will Rochdale’s mysterious duo take us next?
The first surprise on Oversteps, their 10th full album release, is that it appears to continue in a similar vein to its predecessor, 2008’s well-received Quaristice. As then, the range of rhythms, sounds and beats on display is wide and diverse, possibly proving to be a barrier to anyone new to the duo’s output seeking a point of entry. From the calm and oceanic opening of R Ess, to the keyboard drama of Known(1) and the fidgety, scratchy moments of synthesised unease on Treale, this is not a band working to a simple template.
But, as was also the case with Quaristice, repeated listens do reveal some patterns – seeming somehow all the more satisfying for having been hard-earned – offering a chink of accessibility. There are a range of discernably oriental sounds in Treale and Redfall, for example. Dubstep bass, too, runs through Qplay and Os Veix3, blurring, fuzzing and blending the patterns being spun. R Ess, 0=0 and KrYlon all start out with a pronounced quietness (near silence) or tranquillity, though it soon gives way. See On See glimmers and shimmers, repeating and refusing to develop, but still somehow never quite calm.
The mechanised, impersonal nature of the music is most overtly in evidence on Qplay, with its hiss and click of pistons used as percussion, or a form of punctuation. The effect, like so much of the album, is depersonalising, disturbing, yet somehow right.
Tracks tend to merge from one to the next, but a couple do emerge as distinct. Known(1) combines its baroque keyboard melody with a nasty, scraping, ominous scree. D Sho-Qub meanwhile simultaneously buzzes like a bluebottle and features a bastardised version of the kind of good-time synth riff you would find in 1980s electropop. Both are album standouts.
What, then, are we left with at the album’s end? Oversteps is not music to fill the listener with a warm glow or a grin of pleasure, nor a simple compulsion to dance, no matter how “intelligently”. Its pleasures are more complex, deep and hard-won than that. The sternly oblique facade yields only sporadically to let in light or simplicity: a snippet of melody here, a bizarre yet arresting sound effect there, or with a repeated theme. When even the track titles are difficult and unclear it is evident that one is dealing with a band that demands dues are paid. If you choose to do so, the time and effort spent may well ultimately pay off.