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Autechre - Untilted

  by Dominic B. Simpson

published: 15 / 3 / 2005

Autechre - Untilted
Label: Warp Records
Format: CD


Difficult and ultimately disappointing electronica from usually impressive Sheffield duo Autechre

This is intense. Autechre have always been never been one to compromise and on 'Untilted', they’re a doggedly difficult as ever. In 1994, they released ‘Flutter’, an extraordinary eight and a half minutes in which a simple, beautiful bell-like melody rang out over the top of a fluctuating, ever changing beat - so ever changing, in fact, that no two bars in the song contained the same beats per minute (BPM), which meant a constantly shifting drum beat that would have been impossible to dance to were a hardy soul at the DJ box were to do so. Ironically, given just how impossible it would be to have a dance floor grooving along to it, the song was created as a loophole and a protest to the Criminal Justice Bill that was implemented that year by the Conservatives, a slice of legislation that discriminated equally against new age travellers and against illegal raves which played ‘repetitive beats’ - hence ‘Flutter’s’ endlessly morphing tempo, cheekily designed to technically evade the bill (as if the police would have been able to discern). That song remains unique, with its endlessly fascinating geometric musical shapes splintering off in all kinds of directions, a kind of constantly shifting hall of mirrors. Over eight albums or so and numerous EP’s, a huge and prolific back catalogue that in the world of electronic music is pretty impressive in itself, they’ve mined a vein of sound similar to Warp label mate the Aphex Twin that - like Richard D. James’s music - is by turns hypnotic, cerebral, strange, obtuse and infuriating. Most of all, it’s music that’s not designed for getting wasted at a club on Saturday but rather a cerebral experience for listening to on headphones in your bedroom. Their music emanates pulses and glitches, constantly morphing like a Mandelbrot set diagram – something Autechre may have acknowledged themselves with one of their videos, in which a computer generated fractal constantly pulses colours and shapes in time to the music. On 'Untilted' (gedd it?), there’s sadly nothing quite as stunning as ‘Flutter’, though the album does open well with ‘LCC’, which discharges brutal machine-gun fire drum beats over a dystopian sounding synth, just to let you know that, y‘know, they‘re still keeping it real and haven‘t become suddenly cissies or Mariah Carey fans or anything. Over the next seven tracks the Sheffield duo of Rob Brown and Sean Booth explore endlessly minimalist angular drum beats, dispatched in often brutal terms, with minimal, enticing melody that emerges sporadically. ‘Pro Radii’ has a neo-drum n bass beat echoed up to sound enormous – as if it’s played in a cavern - while a droning organ occasionally make its presence felt. It’s followed by ‘Augmatic Disport’, in which the casual listener will be quite convinced that his or her’s CD is stuck in the machine, such is the frequency of the deliberate ‘skip’ glitch effect (a much used trend now in much electronic music). The effect is disorientating and gave me a headache, frankly. The next couple of tracks follow a similar blueprint of skittering beats and the occasional presence of a minimalist melody, and therein lies the problem: it can simply get gratingly, exasperatingly repetitive, leading many listeners to pine for something to focus on. After the album’s finish, it’s difficult to remember anything individual about much of the tracks, such is the frequent monotony. Autechre lack the magnificently dark, brooding evocative grace of Fennesz and are a far colder proposition than the analogue warmth and human emotion displayed on Boards of Canada’s Music Has The Right to Children. 'Untitled', in fact, is as asexual and detached as music gets - not that that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that, as it’s very much been Autechre’s aesthetic since the start; and anyway, if you want laboured emotion, listen to Coldplay or any of the prats who parade their ‘inner child‘ at the Kashmir acoustic club. The uniqueness of Autechre lies in just how much their chrome sleek music is designed for the head rather than the feet. The problem, however, is not necessarily that this music is cold or alienating – though some people may well describe it as that – it’s that there is not enough to really take in with much of the tracks other than endlessly minimalist angular drum beats, dispatched in often brutal terms, with enticing melodic fragments only emerging sporadically, leaving a wanting of more variation. Thankfully things do get better at the end, with the majestic 15-minute ‘Sublimit’ which returns the dystopian synth laden feel of the first song, brilliantly evocative with it’s feeling of a Blade Runner-esque night-time, light-strewn city. It’s reminiscent of Orbital with its church organ motif and is the best thing on here by miles. There’s an awful amount of brutal machine noise before then to sit through, though, and you may find yourself wondering that a little more melody wouldn’t go astray.

Track Listing:-
2 Ipacial Section
3 Pro Radii
4 Augmatic Disport
5 Iera
6 Fermium
7 The Trees
8 Sublimit

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