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Autechre – Chiastic Slide

February 4, 2008

It is easy to say that Chiastic Slide is the point where Autechre decided to be experimental, but everything is relative when you talk about arguably the most progressive electronic artists of our time. Every Autechre album is a departure from what came before it, and every song feels like a disconnect from what preceded it. The band has always been decidedly focused on covering new ground, moreso than honing any of their countless styles. Even what fans consider to be the most perfectly formed album from the duo, Tri Repetae, is not completely certain of itself. Tri Repetae rushed headstrong into new ground, but new ground that could be considered accessible, and with hesitation. A follow up was going to be daunting no matter what, and Chiastic Slide ends up being about as striking as any other Autechre album, stylistically different, but delivering the around the same amount of positive yield and disappointment.

In that sense, it is unique, but naggingly inconsistent and incomplete. Also like all Autechre albums, it jettisons its ideas from its boundaries towards a gravitational origin that it always curves around and misses, but this time it gets closer than usual. There are a handful of songs that could be considered among the bands best, but surprisingly none that could be considered among their worst. The new sounds that are utilized here are compelling, as usual, sometimes adhering to their purposes and other times straying from them. Warm crunches that sound like snow crumbling under heavy boots comprise a considerable amount of the albums lower bass sounds, electronic scrambles run rampant, and wheezes and kitten mews randomly dot songs with some sort of vulnerability.

All in a days work for Autechre, throwing new sounds at the listener, but Chiastic Slide does end up being fairly song based, at least as much as Tri Repetae. The opening Clipater consists of two futuristic funk tunes, the first of which develops into the second almost unrecognizably to the passive ear. The last track, Nuane, follows a similar approach, a lengthy mechanical ass swinger that develops little by little for over ten minutes. Yes, the lengths are imposing, and the beats and hooks get tired. Autechre unfortunately don’t know how to end their songs very well, and their methods of segmentation are not completely effective. But these are some of Autechre’s most consistently interesting songs, and that makes up for the continued delay on the band picking up on their mistakes and pitfalls. Recury is also a standout, the most beat driven and alternatively relaxing of the entire album. The best song is Cichli, which resonates of the style that would punctuate the next album, LP5. The beat is continuous, heavy, fast paced, and danceable, and the synth line is melodic and interesting. Never has a cold Autechre synthesizer felt this full of life. This makes Cichli feel a little out of place when compared to the rest of the songs, most all of which feel cold and ultimately contrived. Autechre nail this song perfectly, hitting the spirit of the machine at it’s core, and even the near ten minute length doesn’t feel meandered on.

This is when the band is the most successful, when at least partially adhering to rhythm and melody. The rest of the songs usually only adhere to one of the two, and their repetition is their downfall. Some beats just shouldn’t be held for as long as they are, especially when they have almost no recognizable rhythm, and some of the melodies are too atonal to be interesting. However, the songs that aren’t always the most satisfying, Tewe, Hub, Calbruc, and Pule, seem to point towards LP5, so there is at least direction and consistency in the experimentation, and chances are they will strike fans as fun or interesting.

This probably isn’t the best Autechre album, and it sure isn’t the most digestible or consistent, but there is something here that gives the individual tracks more soul than can be seen anywhere else in the bands discography. Even Tri Repetae and Incunabula, although nuanced and fun, often times felt sterile, but Chiastic Slide feels fertile with ideas, and for the first time, sure of itself. Never have I seen an electronic artist, or scarcely a band, as frustrating as Autechre. Their albums are always just interesting and complex enough for me to approach them on a higher level, but just too far away from what they should be in terms of quality. I do keep on coming back to them though, for some reason, something subliminal that I can’t put into words or even fully understand myself. I have probably had more fun exploring Chiastic Slide than the other albums. This is because although Chiastic Slide is the usual beautiful mess, it somehow feels essential to Autechre’s body of work, a notion that their other albums constantly struggle with.

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