Autechre – Oversteps

Here we are with a new Autechre album and I’m being reminded just how difficult it is to critique experimental electronic music. I know, I’ve heard the joke that the most narrow-minded of pop-cult lemmings like to throw around: that fans of the avant-garde would listen to microphone feedback if it was handed to them. I’m here to say — that this is true; I listen to Prurient. I’m not ashamed of it, either. I’m not shallow enough to assume that there are concrete-scribed rules on what can be used in music and what cannot. And I’m also, thankfully, not shallow enough to hail Train as alt-rock heroes for taking a decade to make their second decent song, one that’s even more clichéd and shallow than their last.

Pegging Autechre as a Kevin Trudeau of electronic music would be a supreme injustice to a duo that works very hard on their music. Brown and Booth allegedly use over a dozen different programs to assemble each track, some of which the two programmed themselves. And nearly each album the two put together is assembled from a pool of around fifty songs, making sure only the strongest tracks possible make the final cut. Needless to say, if the two ever released a B-sides compilation, furnishers around the world would rejoice to see Autechre fans rushing out to buy new CD racks.

Autechre have been around for quite a while now, having amassed a faithful repertoire of fans. Their newest record Oversteps follows the trend the two began nearly ten years ago with their indisputable opus Confield. While it doesn’t hold a candle to the concision and variety on Confield, Oversteps certainly improves on their most recent Quaristice, with songs that are all-together more concise, polished, and perhaps a little less crude. It also improves on its predecessor by managing to avoid, though still not entirely successfully, the duller moments of simplistic beat repetition or faceless silence that plagued that 2008 release.

Oversteps is still classic Autechre in their finer moments, rife with the glitchy saturation, the impetuously unorthodox beats, and blatant disregard for conventional tonality. This record, however, seems to have adopted a much more spacious feel, with every melody fading in and out of an abyss or chiming in the corners of a dark room rather than rising to the front-and-center. I hope I’m not alone when I say that Autechre’s works often give the impression of the “abandoned laboratory” theme off of an old sci-fi movie or video game soundtrack. If that analogy didn’t throw you off entirely, then rest assured that this sound is refined nearly perfectly on Oversteps. From the struggling xenocentric melody on “known(1)” to the echoing chimes and faint chorus on “d-sho qub,” everything feels wide-open and atmospheric.

As esoteric as Autechre may be, Oversteps is just as fine an addition to the duo’s handsome discography as Gantz Graf or Quaristice, but unfortunately just as expectable… which is why this album will undoubtedly, but perhaps not justly, fall under the radar of everybody besides devoted fans. Those with any vested interest at all in listening will surely not be disappointed, however, as it is variegated and compelling more or less throughout. Just don’t go in expecting to hear any pitiful croonings about vaguely-identified past lovers.

by Mason “Train kept a’rollin, I kept a’bitchin'” McGough

1 Comment

  1. New Review! Autechre – Oversteps « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] Autechre – Oversteps, by Mason McGough […]

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