Autechre – Exai (2013)

London duo Sean Booth and Rob Brown are entering their 20th year together under the alias of Autechre, an electronic music outfit that over the last two decades has shaped and permanently altered the electronic scene, creating genre defining albums in IDM with their early releases (Incunabula, Amber) before taking and breaking the paradigms they themselves had forged with later albums in the 2000’smost notably the highly controversial, highly experimental Quaristice. And that is Autechre in a nutshell; a mysterious and ever sonically shifting pair that have continuously sought to redefine the limits of the genre’s they rooted themselves in and helped to shape.

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It’ll come as no surprise to most people then that Exai has not taken regressive steps and returned to the, shall we say, more palatable sounds from their earlier releases but instead continued along the lines of Quaristice and previous album Oversteps as it fuses big electronic beats with much stronger Glitch and experimental overtones in this 2 hour, 17 track behemoth. By no means do Booth and Brown provide incentives for people to listen to their fantastical creations, but at this point I don’t think it matters; Autechre have an incredibly strong fan base who will continue to listen to their releases no matter what. Indeed, I was less concerned about the potentially radical sounds within and moreso the sheer quantity of music it contains.

Like their other releases, Exai also shares some allusions and references in its odd titling to its place in their discography; Exai = X I (say it out loud), or 11 in Roman Numerals, and yes, this is their 11th full length release. Other albums with this sequential referencing consist of Amber (second colour of traffic lights), Quaristice has the catalogue number Warp333 (3×3 = 9), Untitled has 8 characters in it, and so on, you get the idea. Much like their close relation Aphex Twin, Autechre have lots of subtle references within their music that extend beyond the bizarre and inane track titles.

Yet that seeming randomness, that apparent inanity within the track titles, seems to be replicated in the content of the music itself; cascades of syncopated electronic beats along with randomly introduced noise and glitch undercurrents create an album overwhelming in its lack of cohesion and utterly indigestible in its entirety. Oversteps back in 2010 was my introduction to the Autechre sound and I thought that was something not easy to approach, somewhat lacking cohesion and jumping track frequently, but it has nothing on Exai‘s chaos. I’m struggling to even work out where to begin. 

There actually is a huge amount of content to enjoy here, for those so inclined; much of the interior has the best to offer with a number of tracks at the album’s heart forming some of my favourites. This is probably more due to their Oversteps throwbacks with much more deliberate beat laden elements, like the lengthy”bladelores” forging acid riffs with bold, precise IDM beats and spinning out its carefully crafted indecision for 12 whole minutes, balancing it out with more ambient and drone intermissions. In a similar vein is the earlier “T ess xi”, with a much older and retrospective sound that could have come from the now-ancient Tri-Repeatae or similar, with its 90’s keyboard component. This more minimalist approach is somewhat atypical of the album as a whole though; just a few tracks before we are assaulted with the wet synths and rolling glitch beats of the odd “Flep” and its more bass-heavy twin “vekoS” before “tuinorizn” helps us to bridge the gap between dark and light.

The early album is still notable however, with opener “Fleure” driving home some Acid tunes and melting the keyboard textures below, taking little time to introduce us (possibly inaccurately) to the weird and wonderful world of Exai. But this mean, abrasive introduction is short lived, collapsing under its own experimentation prematurely and moving into the shifting sands of “irlite (get 0)”, a slowly evolving 10 minuter whose beats prograde into fractured, distal instrumentation and increasingly delicate ambience before the carefully measured rhythms of IDM standard “prac-f” take a darker and more low-key approach.

Perhaps the closest relative of the sound they abandoned in the last album falls with the appropriately titled “1 1 is” with its disjointed rhythms rising and falling before hitting a trough at the halfway mark and moving into some superb bassline blasts; speaker quaking pulses of energy countered with itchy noise and sharp synth ticks and warbles ride us out for 4 minutes of solid gold. It’s brilliantly huge and hard-hitting and was something of a sign of hope as I reached the mid-album. It’s chaser “nodezsh” also defines some more considered music structure, although still in that sort of crazy-paving way that Ae have going on.

I’d like to say that things perhaps get even stranger in the later album but that’s probably untrue. “spl9” rises on a bed of anxious and twitchy skittering glitch riffs and accretes over its tense 7 minute duration to a violent cacophony of confused and confusing mismatched beats and sliding, piercing textures before disappearing into a sudden and abrupt silence. Things do get surprisingly beat-orientated towards the end though with the surprisingly driven duo of “deco Loc” and the Trip-Hop reminiscent clipped drum breaks of “recks on”, but never leaving the Ae style and still coupling those deliberate rhythms with some raw noise just for the hell of it.

Really though, there is no way for me to describe in any sane and reasonable number of words the content of this album. The random musical content and arbitrary placement of tracks (leading to frequently odd juxtapositions) dont hinder this album any more than its incredible length already does, and I feel this is an album more suited and perhaps even designed for purely sampling, just picking up at any point you like and listening for any length of time as opposed to booking yourself up for 2 hours at a time. I do think it is somewhat frustrating that there isn’t a sense of logical cohesion or specific direction with the album but I can see that this is intentional. This is a cathartic release, designed to rid their system of the buildup of extraneous tracks they’ve been accumulating, some of them rather good, some with obvious emotional significance, others obviously more musical off-cuts. I promise you wont like everything here, but I think you’ll certainly find something here to enjoy if you have any love of Electronic or specifically IDM, whether its their more noisy and experimental side or perhaps the more beat focused, both are found here and like always with Autechre with an anal attention to detail, brilliant mastering and extreme precision despite the seemingly chaotic nature of it all.

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Marc Broude – Dead On Arrival (2013)

Another review request, this time from independent Ambient/Slowcore/Darkwave musician Marc Broude with Dead On Arrival.

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As you can probably glean from the title, the cover art and the genres that Broude identifies with, you’d be surprised to find any upbeat or jovial music within this 40 minute release, and you’d be right for the most part. Dead On Arrival is a remarkably low key release that sets a rather sombre tone throughout; not depressing necessarily but far from upbeat. Opener “Heidi” is somewhat surprising in that regard then, since it actually emerges to some entrancing and droning synths followed gently by a very sobering set of dominant organ notes, all the while with Marc uttering the softest whispers of vocals almost lost in the encompassing emptiness before more ethereal and distorted guitars and trembling cymbals move in menacingly towards the end where it then terminates somewhat abruptly.

“Kindred Spirit” chases it up and once more the drones make themselves known as the track introduces itself to us, but they’re not lonely for long as gentle guitar quickly makes its way in to be accompanied by the barely decipherable vocals again. Wrapped in heady amounts of reverb and general low-fidelity fuzz their melancholy comes through strongly, not to mention the unavoidable sense of nostalgia that I always get with that kind of processing. The track moves along slowly and quietly, making ripples only on the emphasis of each chorus. The title track really does just come and go for me though, despite its 10 minute duration as the longest track of the album. It continues in the low key instrumental vibe, with a strong focus still on guitar and light percussion, but I just cant help but feel that too much of it is filler with just not enough variance, not enough crests and troughs to keep a good, progressive sound going. Admittedly the unexpected pulse of sound as the guitar kicks into overdrive in the final couple of minutes is really fantastic, with Marc’s pained and distal vocals topping it all off really well.

Then we have something of a come down with the rather depressingly titled “I Want To See You Happy But I Don’t Want To Die”, a track name I dont even want to consider the implications of, but a nice if rather sad piece with a focus on minimal piano instrumentation with thin drones occasionally piercing the fugue. The ending sits badly with me though, where it breaks into random electronic beats for the last 30 seconds; very unnecessary and a completely arbitrary decision from my standpoint. I see this is as something of the beginning of the end in my interest with this album personally, with “Imagine Yourself In A Forest” devolving into chaotic noise and harshly distorted field recordings before spending the 5 minutes sitting in a thin and distant blanket of weak drone, which then makes way for heavily processed guitar and brief synth melodies before ending its unfortunate experimental life.

I really thought this album showed promise near the beginning; it’s Slowcore, minimal instrumentation vibes with some nice light vocal textures sprinkled above were really lovingly produced, not to mention sad and intimate creations, but as time progressed the music became more chaotic, random, unstructured; it started to lose its emotional resonance and just seemed to be more interested in sonic experimentation. I like a bit of variety but I don’t enjoy how this album was put together, and personally would have opted not to have such an abrasive and pointlessly tangential latter half.

You can check out Marc’s music for yourselves (and then disagree with me) at his Bandcamp.

Lusine – The Waiting Room (2013)

Well friends, the time has come. I have acquired a fancy new mechanical keyboard for the pure purpose of encouraging me to write more (since the board on my laptop is utterly dreadful) and I’m going to give it a trial run on this, one of my most hotly anticipated albums of the year, heck, the last years, Lusine’s The Waiting Room. 

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2009 saw the release of a 180 degree turn in Lusine’s work in A Certain Distance; a paradigm shift in his previously IDM and experimental electronic sound that began to explore into more pop-infused reached of Microhouse and Minimal Techno. As it stands, it remains to be one of my favourite albums of all time and caused a radical change in my own listened habits, more towards the kind of music I’m preferential to today. So then, how would whatever Lusine produced subsequently possibly compare? An album that I have been waiting for the last 4 years almost is bound to have some unrealistic expectations attached and I wont lie to you I was really hesitant to begin listening, but it was better than I could have dreamed.

This album has multiple facets to it; on the one hand we have the more grounded and familiar Minimal Techno origins but it’s also balanced against the Microhouse vibes that ACD set out with. The combination is powerful, with delicate and emergent rhythms as set out in the Techno style balanced against much more driven House beats, so Lusine’s typical synth exploration married against stronger beats. Opener “Panoramic” set out this sound for us well with its sweeping drone chased up by rolling synth beats and forward pushing basslines, wrapped in emergent and evolving electronic textures as it rises to a light crescendo. It’s a sound that is chased up later in the album also, in fact at the complete opposite end with the final two tracks “Stratus” and “February” respectively. Both of them are more retrospective in sound and both of them could have come from some of his earlier albums. The striking pace and stereo synth of “Stratus” coupled with its distal shouts and echoes would make it feel at home on Serial Hodgepodge or perhaps even an older album of his like Condensed. In fact, it is the mirror of the comparatively gentle penultimate track “Cirrus” on his previous album; a sense of duality begins to emerge.

“February” is a different animal completely, closing the album less on stratospheric beats and more downtempo, refined ones. Strong basslines reemerge though, to keep the beats rolling, but this 7 minute closer named after the month of the album’s release is an optimistic and driven number in its own right, spinning out its riffs for minutes on end before  it hits a trough; the synths become more piercing, the House beats become more prominent and snippets of voice cut and dodge through. It’s bright and bold and yearning, and an excellent closer as we fade to black. The other side of the album is the same alternative side that A Certain Distance also introduced into his sound, one where vocals are part of the primary fabric of the tracks. Opener “Panoramic” is chased up by the best track of the album IMHO “Get The Message”, the first truly vocal lead track Lusine has ever made. Its downtempo vibe is more reminiscent of tracks like “Gravity” from the previous album, and the lyrics are equally enigmatic:

“I dont know where to begin

I’m living in sin

How can you talk?

Look where you’ve been”

Ok, probably a bad example, but it does vocalise the fundamental message of this album, this idea of damaged relationships and the stresses and strains they possess. But there is not a trace of regret or sadness, just a very firm albeit downbeat vibe. “Lucky” follows it up swiftly with what sounds like Vilja Larjosto of “Two Dots” fame back at the mic, this time the sound is much more familiar and could have been lifted straight out of the ACD files, but that means it sort of feels out of place. Its chopped vocals and barely evolving beats are quite pale and bland, and it’s the only low point of the album for me. Pre-release single “Another Tomorrow” lightens the mood a little later on with jovial, bouncy electronica and lightly fuzzed and even stranger lyrics than seen so far. At first I didnt enjoy this track but it really works very well in the context of the album and it seems to have an almost childlike innocence to it which I like.

“Without A Plan” is perhaps the most chilled out and relaxed track of the album; syncopated synthesised wind instruments roll in the pauses between verses and then reversed synth tones kick in at the chorus to create these rising staccato beats. “By This Sound”, the last track with any real words in, seems to devolve a little further again, replacing the heavy vocoder usage of ACD with some digital distortion and obfuscation, blurring and pixelating the lyrics and blending the female layers with another male-sung set beneath and again this sense of parting comes through (and considering how it is followed by the bold flight of “Stratus”, perhaps this parting is forced, maybe even temporary).

“You’ve been here before

on this drive with me

When the city grows

what a sight to see”

Beautiful in its simplicity and lilted vocals it’s one of my favourite tracks.

Like any album that I really and truly love, writing about it fully and in detail normally exceeds the normal word limit and actually says less than I would like. The Waiting Room is the opposite of A Certain Distance in that it has none of the social anxieties or insecurities bound within the downtempo Minimal Techno and light Glitch elements of its ancestor, focusing instead on a sound that is more hopeful and progressive, a sound that looks towards the future while we are stuck in this limbo state. It is the sound of change and separation, those final moments of preparation sat anxiously in the departure lounge waiting for the flight to take you away from your better half, but even then it still manages to end on a chipper and hopeful note. Once again it is an intelligently designed album with plenty of personal interpretation allowed and will definitely end up within my top10 albums for this year. Check it out.