Autechre
Untilted

By David Gunn

 
It’s about that time – another two years, another Autechre album rattles into view. I skip back home, recline sofa-wise in some Richard III posture and gesture to the corner. My two-foot medieval minion skutters to the stereo, hits play, and almost immediately it happens: cwrk cwrk gri, bdk!, ... (cwrk) grii(i cw/tk)........)....(..... .......................bdn!k!

Anyone familiar with Autechre knows the feeling – that momentary pause when the central beat is suspended. For me, that has always been the defining aspect of their music. That moment when the logic says ‘now’ and everything else keeps spinning on, but that beat is held off. You’re left in suspension, hanging there as the surroundings begin to work loose, to splinter off into rhythmic fragments – without centre, without gravity. And then, of course, it comes back down, gives you what you’re waiting for – but it is not, as with so many other musicians, about the return to established rhythms, the skilful resolution that takes you back to the same flow. Instead, the new positioning changes it all – switches the dynamics, alters the variables, realises a new set of relationships between the same component parts. It never changes; it’s never the same.

That, by happy coincidence, is not a bad metaphor for all Autechre’s music. No album sounds quite like the others – yet somehow they’re so closely related as to be almost the same. Despite the ten year evolution from clinical melodics to stochastic big beat, little has really changed. Something lets you single out an Autechre track across smoky rooms and time. I struggle to identify the reason for this, but it’s somewhere around here: it is a music emptied almost entirely of concept. Even by the standards of a scene they helped initiate, Autechre have always been cerebral to the point of blindness. They focus not on compositional structure, but the smaller relational sequences – how the proximity of sounds impacts upon them; how almost imperceptible shifts in rhythmic patterns flare out into Rorschach spatters, full of fractured life but always provisional, always impermanent.

At this stage it seems silly to begin describing their sound. All that’s left is an evaluation of Autechre on their own terms: do they match or surpass the high standards of their own back catalogue? To these ears at least, Untilted is a welcome addition. While it doesn’t forego the stubborn indulgences of Confield, it is surprisingly accessible. The beats are more insistent, more compelling than Draft 7.0, and all the better for it. But there’s something less tangible going on. Draft 7.0 was over-conceptualised, too careful to explore every possibility rhythmic permutation. Untilted has an infectious, kinetic energy, driving each track. As before, it’s all about the off-kilter rhythms, but these beats aren’t spinning off and out of focus – they’re always running back to the action, muscling back into the fray like some drunken Napoleon in a Chelmsford brawl. It almost sounds like the old keyboard pushers are having fun – dancing around like it was 1995...

So, 10 years on and still, everything the same, everything different. If you never liked Autechre, Untilted won’t be your Damascus moment. But if you’ve been waiting for the next salvo, Untilted will chase out the Richard Threes and give you the same boyish smiles as LP5 and Tri Repetae. For this old timer, the May tour can’t come soon enough.
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