The one and only time I saw Autechre live was in about 1994, at the Lakota in Bristol. At that point in my life, the music of Sean Booth and Rob Brown seemed like the most astonishing, revelatory experience in the world (and when I say 'seemed like', there's really no two ways about it- they were undisputedly kicking-out the most advanced shit on the planet at that point). In particular, the debut album "Incunabula", third album "Tri Repetae" and certain EPs, especially "Anti", remain powerfully affecting documents of the time; the next stage on from the overtly Detroit-inspired strain of melodic listening music that 'Techno' had become. It was perhaps significant that "Incunabula" was the final installment in Warp's Artificial Intelligence album series, the point where the last vestiges of the dancefloor had finally been abandoned, and the journey into pure head-space exploration could begin. It felt right at the time, and listening again today, it still feels right. Interesting then, that Autechre's output in the intervening years has been a source of constant frustration for me. I guess it comes down to the fact that I generally respond to music on an emotional and physical level, whereas recent Autechre requires a certain degree of intellectual involvement that I'm often unable or unwilling to give. Unless I really concentrate on it, it just goes straight over my head. Too rhythmically dislocated to nod your head to, too unmelodic to draw any immediate emotional warmth from, too stern and serious to get a laugh out of (and I do love a bit of humour), yet not extreme enough to make me even gasp in amazement. It's music that I respect and admire, but could never really love. And when you attach a lot of importance to emotional response, the lack of love is a big issue.
So here's yet another Autechre long-player arrived to test my patience once more. As always, I do my best to listen hard and try to extract some meaning from the scattershot percussive workouts and glassy textures that flicker across the speakers. "Untilted" continues from where "Draft 7.30" left off. As always there are little hints of things going on that betray Autechre's roots. Both "Augmatic Disport" and the mammoth "Sublimit" feature elements of crunchy 80's Hip-Hop, trapped in a disjointed digital para-reality where groove is a crime against the state, and "Ispacial Section" surprisingly touches base with jungle via dub reggae featuring some wicked spring-reverb drenched snare shots. After an initially militant salvo of agitated fuckbeats, opening track "LCC" suddenly drops down to half-speed and takes an uncustomary excursion into warm, reverberating melodicism that both surprises and delights these ears. Autechre are actually excellent tunesmiths when they put their mind to it, and those added washes of melancholia bring some much-needed colour to Autechre's usual battleship-grey complexion.
As always, there's enough going on here to keep me coming back for more (when I'm feeling particularly clever), but christ it's hard work. I like it, but I can't say I'm feeling the love.
C'mon Warp - when's the new Boards Of Canada album going to arrive?
Buy "Untilted" at Warpmart or Bleep.