Autechre have changed their style a lot over the years. To give a potted history, the Artificial Intelligence style of Incunabula and Amber slowly gave way to the abrasive, glitchy textures of Confield and Draft 7.30, before some more conventional melodies and riffs re-entered the picture on Oversteps. The release of Sign follows a handful of very ambitious projects (the two-hour long Exai, four-hour long Elseq, the eight-hour long NTS Sessions) and is refreshingly brief at 65 minutes, its relatively wide range of moods and sounds giving it the grab-bag feel of 1999’s EP7.
Each track has its own distinctive soundbed, whether it be the detuned synths of F7, the elegant clavichord sound of r cazt or the 4-dimensional sound effects of au14. The latter really are something to behold: they have a surreal scattering timbre to them, like the sudden diffusion of particles underwater, and they punctuate the track’s energetic beat very well.
si00 strikes an interesting tone, characterised by a goofy synth timbre that is lent an element of menace by the big growling bassline which storms in roughly halfway through the song. Meanwhile the start-stop chords of th red a are accompanied by a bassline whose transients are so heavily filtered that they sound like a dial-up modem. The tracks don’t have that much in the way of structure, as they create a mood, marinate in it for around five minutes, then bow out gracefully, and the novelty of the sound design makes this approach perfectly enjoyable.
Simply put, no one does electronic music quite like Autechre. Rumours have abounded about how much the Sheffield duo’s technology makes the tunes for them these days – the mysterious machinery known as ‘the system’ – but as long as the results are this far out, we should welcome our admittedly not quite new musical overlords.