Autechre Quaristice

[Warp; 2008]

Styles: too many equipment junkies that want to be them
Others: blissful suffocation

Not counting their previous incarnations, Sean Booth and Rob Brown have operated as the highly influential Autechre since 1993. Their first two works, Incunabula and Amber, stand as touchstones for a dubiously dubbed genre that shall go unnamed for the sake of their sanity. Following in the wake of their third album, Tri-Repetae, widely considered their masterwork, subsequent releases were increasingly met with hostile critique by critic and fan. Accusations that their compositions lacked soul and meaning, that they had lost the plot, etc. began to flow fast and heavy, just as the intricacy and organization of their sounds intensified in complexity.

Tri-Repetae showed that Autechre were actively challenging their listeners, and it is no surprise that they remained in that compositional dialogue for future releases, despite critical resistance. Much like modern composers such as Xenakis or Lachenmann, these challenges are not set for effect. They are set because they seek to re-examine and explore their chosen palettes' limitations and settings in an effort to continue the documentation of their independent voice. And what some might deem as cold and soulless, others will find new levels of effect outside of the prescribed. Ultimately, the quest and documentation of the new will rarely meet with open arms.

That said, Quaristice benefits greatly from a slight referencing of the dimly lit ambience similar to their favored releases, which will undoubtedly appeal to fans that felt their work had become overbearingly clinical. The stronger fleshing out of surroundings is evidenced immediately within the painterly washes comprising opener "Altibzz," hinting at themes mined in the past, yet surpassing them with a greater degree of sophistication in arrangement. This brooding ambience is explored throughout the album, but most notably with the streaking depth charges that criss-cross the landscape of "paralel Suns." The album is capped off with two further examinations of the ambient discipline, "Notwo" and "Outh9X," each an unsettling exploration of tone and acoustics that dwarf many works based in similar theory.

Quaristice is by no means an ambient album. Yet even within the clanking fidgety rhythms of "The Plc," for example, atmospheric tones are found streaking throughout the spatial framework, alluding to that genre's typical signifiers. Several passages on Quaristice are staggering in this heightened balance of rhythm and surrounding ambience: "WNSN," with its tonal clusters groaning, overwhelmed by their own strength; the stuttering kick drums of "plyPhon" sending shockwaves forth into the all-consuming, cavernous setting; the frenetic "Simm," which descends into a triangular counter-clockwise motion of punctuation; and "Tankakern," which threatens to explode at its edges underneath all of the weight set into it. The whole of the release seeks to consume the entire space that it occupies.

After many detailed listens, the record feels like their strongest yet, a bold statement considering the importance of their previous works. It is a remarkable assemblage of expressive textures, with an allowance of echoes of their past to resonate from beginning to end. Composers often need to re-examine previous theories in order to move forth into new territories, and Quaristice is that simultaneous step back and forward, likely to please fans both old and new. What this album will sonically proceed is anyone's guess -- we can only hope to be prepared at that point for whatever territories that Autechre are ready to navigate and document.

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