Autechre, Draft 7.30
Released: April 2003
Autechre fans will generally tell you that the band's music can be broken down into two basic categories. The first category is "wet" Autechre, which consists of everything the Sheffield duo did from their inception up to their "classic," Tri Repatae. The music is "wet," they would say, because there is a fluid, almost bubbly texture that underlies the abrasive, electronic sounds that forms the center of the band's music. In other words, there's a beat buried in the noise, and that beat often sounds like water. The second category is "dry" Autechre, which comprises everything from Chiastic Slide forward. This music is "dry," these same fans will tell you, because there is a greater emphasis on complicated rhythms and dissonant noise. In other words, the beat doesn't sound like water, and it's not even much of a beat. Not surprisingly, most of these so-called fans will tell you that the "dry" music is generally pretty shitty, while the "wet" music is about as close to god as you're likely to get this side of a flat line.
All of this is bullshit, of course. Autechre's (that is, Rob Brown's and Sean Booth's) musical progression is far more cohesive--and more dynamic--than this simple binary would let you believe. Their earlier music has its high points and low points; so too with the later music. The only real difference between the "wet" and "dry" periods is really the fact that Autechre's recent music has been released on a major label in the United States, and so all those people who already piss on major label releases decided to piss on Autechre, too. Ironically, this attack has nothing to do with "selling out"; it has, in fact, to do with not selling out. As soon as Autechre went "major," people attacked the duo for making music like Confield, which was as dissonant as "pop" music can be, sounding at times like the digital equivalent of a Mobius strip. So, apparently, Autechre sucks now because their music is too alienating--as if people listen to a band like Autechre for the hooks.
What none of these people seem to understand is that Autechre's music is interesting, with or without bubbles. Take their latest release, Draft 7.30. On the surface, the music seems to be a catalog of sounds heard on every previous Autechre release. There are the bubbles; there are the beats; there are the dissonant, electrical warfare noises; there are samples that seem tossed up in the air and reorganized in random patterns and repeated in all their permutations; there are soft, Vangelis moments, when a single synth or sample sputters around in beautiful, elliptical patterns; and there are even a few moments that seem like drunkenly remixed Boards of Canada numbers. In short, everything you've heard from previous Autechre releases can be heard on this record.
Now, this familiarity can be a bit of a problem. Some tracks, like "Theme of Sudden Roundabout" and "V-Proc" remind me of the more frenzied, "let's throw a whole bunch of beats together and let them fuck each other" tracks on ep7 and lp5, while the fluttering, haunting, out of tune beat and synth lead on "IV VV IV VV VIII" are reminiscent of the many elliptical, anti-rhythm tracks on Confield. In other words, not only do some of the sounds here bear resemblance to earlier Autechre material, but some of the tracks are structurally similar to earlier efforts. Frankly, though, that's true for just about every artist, so it's difficult to find fault with Booth and Brown for repeating themselves at times. Still, this is Autechre, two guys who virtually invented experimental IDM and have influenced a host of lesser imitators. Their track record means that we must judge their efforts more critically than lesser bands. Hence, these "homages," interesting they may be, are still a bit disappointing.
Still, there are other tracks here that are anything but a disappointment. "Pnti:l," for example, is a weird little track filled with squelchy, fuzzy beats and draped with a moaning, droning wail melody; despite the weird sounds, this is actually a pretty funky track that bounces and plops all over the place. And then there's "Surripere," an amazing 11-minute epic of beauty and queasiness. It begins as a slowly mutating rhythm and melody that floats and sways in a beautiful, enticing pattern. Ah, but just as you're sitting there enjoying the nice Shuttle358-like mood of the piece, along comes a stab of lead that punctures the beauty in two, leaving in its wake two bloody stumps that once were beautiful but suddenly metamorphose, slowly and deliberately, towards death and decay. This is one of the best Autechre tracks I've ever heard.
In the end, Autechre's music is all about U-turns: taking music in one direction, and then twisting it in unexpected and unsettling ways. The problem with their music comes when the sounds that were one unexpected become familiar. Autechre has been battling with this familiarity over the course of their last few disks. Confield and ep7 both succeeded when they managed to find ways to subvert those "classic" Autechre cliches. The best parts of Draft 7.30 also succeed in this way, though I think this time they are also trying to subvert the cliches that they had created on Confield and ep7 to subvert earlier cliches. A Mobius strip, indeed! The bottom line is that Draft 7.30 succeeds at times but subsumes to those cliches at others. It's a mixed bag, to be sure, but even Autechre's cliches are more interesting than nearly everything else you'll hear this year.
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