It’s a mystery that so many commentators seem to be claiming that this, the second Autechre release for 2010, is so much better than the earlier Oversteps album. Maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places. With a WAP catalogue number rather than WARP, Autechre/Warp seem to be treating it as an EP, although it’s as long as any album needs to be. But EP7 was hardly a sidelined release, so it’s unlikely they consider this some kind of afterthought to the main act.
Oversteps was an impressive return to melody from a band who have, by and large, buried their ample melodic talent with abrasive sounds, static and unusual mixing for some years. It featured not just the usual arpeggios and synth pads of “melodic” electronic music, but full-blown organic melodies, sounding improvised yet meticulously tweaked as only Autechre can do — along with sonic explorations, burbles, slap-back delays; a cornucopia of sound.
What it lacked though, by and large, was beats. And it seems that a sizeable portion of the listening public want Ae beats. I’m not about to complain. There’s no doubt that move of ten differentiates itself from Oversteps from the outset with the drum programming to the fore, like Untilted but with shorter, less oblique tracks. Those who saw Autechre on their last tour may just have been wishing for something like this, although it’s still not exactly that sound, which had my elated brain screaming “It’s Ae drum’n’bass!” through most of the set. Here we get Ae acid, Ae hip-hop, and even a bit of Ae house.
The 4/4 kick on “y7”, which was released on SoundCloud when the album was announced, along with its warm fuzzy tones, syncopated bassline and relatively fast pace make it a welcomingly familiar piece whenever it comes on. It’s followed by the nice drum machine break of “pce freeze 2.8i”, which continues almost unaltered for 5 minutes while discordant synth clouds and squiggly basslines chatter over and under it.
The swung hip-hop funk of “rew(1)” follows, and then the very SKAM “nth Dafuseder.b”, before we get to a track that could be an outtake from Oversteps. To be honest, if “iris was a pupil” had been on the album it would’ve been one of the lesser tracks, although its conversation between mid-register and high-register melodies is rather pretty.
“no border” continues the less-than-thrilling mid-album slump with directionless melody and muted sonic choices. “M62” picks up the pace but remains muted in sound and emotional heft, and manages to go nowhere much in its 6 minutes. Back in beatless territory, “ylm0” again features a conversation between low and high instruments, sounding like computers learning to play music. It’s quite sweet.
Autechre do have a dab hand in album (and EP) closers, and “Cep puiqMX” takes us back to factories on alien planets, with big dramatic chords, crunchy swung beats reminiscent of Chiastic Slide, downwards glissandi, and a general air of mystery. In a pleasing reversal of their norms, the pads fade out first, leaving us with the playful, jittery beats for a few more rounds.
It’s safe to say that this album really is all about the beats, and 2010’s pair of releases shows that Autechre haven’t lost their touch at human emotion or robot rhythms. Long may they continue!