Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Autechre's Exai seeks to overwhelm with electronic experimentation

English electronica duo Autechre have been invading our earlobes since the early 90s, evolving from highly melodic to highly dissonant, and then into a thousand directions from there. But over the course of eleven albums, Rob Brown and Sean Booth have proven themselves as masters of headphone music. Plop down in your bedroom floor, pop in your earbuds, and prepare yourself for a journey with Autechre.

Exai is not an album to be pinned down in one spot. Opener "Fleure" features a rumbling, low frequency beat offset by frenetic sounds of clinking and clunking running over the top. It contains many elements that become a common theme over the album's two hour running time, most notably its penchant for spastic, random effects and its dependence on dark, downcast, liquidy beats. More often than not, they sound like a broken radio gone berserk.

With its abundance of bouncy, watery effects and its slinky, sinister beat, "prac-f" demonstratively showcases Exai's water theme, while the pulsing beats and cold symphonic overtones of "irlite (get 0)" showcase a sense of variety.

As always, Autechre have turned in a mind boggling technical achievement that should satisfy the production majors, and it's not hard to appreciate their accomplishment. It is a much tougher task, however, to endear yourself to the album. There is no common unifying theme. There is plenty of ambiance, spacey synth washes, and lots of static filled, electrical effects, but there is little organization within the actual music. At the least, "T ess xi" has some semblance of progression, starting out very minimal before transforming into a garbled smorgasbord of percussive beatwork and warped synth patterns.

"Bladelores" is the album's standout, opening with a chilled out backbeat, and later sharing the spotlight with a airy wash that floats above an ever shifting bass beat. Eventually the bass drops out, leaving nothing but an angelic, reverent moody wash, which literally sounds lighter than air.

Exai bounces around, flutters, hisses, commits all sorts of hijinks and shenanigans, but never seems to truly satisfy. It's a very difficult piece of work; it's not their most out there album but not their most accessible either. Aficionados of experimental music should find something to enjoy, but Autechre is likely to confound newer listeners. It is impressive to see all the drops, breaks, and inventive sonic textures they dream up and how they utilize them, but it is not a casual listening experience. You either need a very specialized taste or to be in a very specific mood to get the most out of it.

Score: 72/100

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