Autechre – Quaristice

September 24, 2008

Probably the most noticeable difference between Autechre’s latest LP Quaristice and their back catalog is song length. The electronic superstar duo is still cranking out experimental music, as signified by the complex rhythms, amorphous tones, and colorful aural textures, harkening back to their latter experimental albums such as LP5 and Draft 7.30. The difference is that the songs are significantly smaller, with a few notable exceptions.

These exceptions perhaps reveal a growth in soundmasters Sean Booth and Rob Brown. The first song to break five minutes is Simmm, which sounds much like a Tri Repetae b-side. An abstract but traceable pots-n-pans beat is built upon with very clean cut sounding IDM synthesizers until the latter half of the song kicks in with an assortment of sound experimentation that we would come to expect from more recent Autechre; synthetic sounds vaguely resembling water splashing, Mario going down a green pipe, or metallic pops are the norm for the duo. What makes Simmm particularly interesting is that it develops and ends within the five minute length comfortably. We can only guess, but guess reasonably that if Autechre made this song ten years ago, it would have likely continued on for an additional unnecessary five minutes. This improved awareness of time is applied with great success on some songs, such as Simmm and many of the more off the wall compositions on the album, which are not necessarily bad but do not need to be test driven or worked with for more than the two or three minutes given to them.

However, another thing that makes Quaristice a pretty bold album for Autechre are its ambient pieces, and it is difficult to say whether or not they were subject to deliberate timing decisions. The opening Altibzz is one such ambient song, and is destined to be an electronic classic. Probably the most beautiful piece the group have ever recorded, it shows an impressive amount of restraint with its soft synthesizer melodies that intermingle with one another to form brief and understated harmonies, the result being a mesmerizingly beautiful song that is full of life. The song clocks in at 2:52, and although many listeners could have probably listened to the song for five minutes more without getting tired, its brevity makes the song that much more delicious and fleeting, much like the shortest and sweetest pieces by Warp compatriots Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada.

But alternately, we have the opposite side of the spectrum with the less melodic ambient pieces. Of these, Paralel Suns is quite short and both Notwo and Outh9X are very long. The catch is that both seem to work, Paralel Suns being enjoyably brief in contrast to its massive scope, and Notwo being quite long but consistently relaxing, while Outh9X actually does have quite a bit to say and is appropriately the longest song on the album.

But Quaristice is in no way an ambient album. Autechre probably do have it in them to make an ambient album, but Quaristice ends up being fun because of all of the bases it covers, ambient just happening to be the most interesting of them. It is a versatile electronic album, hitting genres as far away from one another as RDJ reminiscent acid house (chenc9), the aforementioned ambient tracks, glitch, and more. But this is Autechre, so a good deal of the tracks are less music than they are experimental organized sound.

It is likely that Quaristice will confuse listeners new to electronic music just as much as Autechre’s previous albums. However, it is still significantly more likely to draw new fans or change the minds of anyone who had their doubts about Autechre, due in part to the band’s new understanding of time management, which is a problem which they have always wrestled with. And because Autechre are still finding new and effective ways to express themselves through electronic music, and are still producing the occasional brilliant cornerstone song to the genre like Altibzz, it has become difficult to deny that they are the future of music, for better or worse.

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