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Autechre – Chiastic Slide (1997)

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With a discography as sonically diverse as Autechre’s, you can easily find some forsaken soul to declare each recording an outlier. If you want to apply that to Chiastic Slide, then you should zero in on its ‘dirty’, heavily sample and noise driven soundscapes. Compared to the cleaner sounds of the albums before and after it, Chiastic Slide is a sonic anomaly for sure (even if the accompanying Envane EP shares its auditory patina), but the actual songwriting on here is roughly comparable, hitting a good midpoint between the nominally accessible Tri Repetae and nominally more difficult LP5. In the end, it got socketed into the discography, but not without a lot of spirited fan discussion about what role about what sort of role going full Chiastic Slide had in Autechre’s discography.

The funny thing about Chiastic Slide is that it actually isn’t all that chiastic – i.e there is not much on this album that is truly symmetrical. The song structures, for instance, tend more towards evolution than repetition. In fact, this album’s songs showcase some of the most striking and abrupt transitions of Autechre’s discography, at least in this relatively early stage. After all, it starts off with “Cipater”, which for all purposes fades in an entirely new song over its initial set of musical ideas. Some of the tracks admittedly develop more organically, but at the very least, beginning with the abrupt mood shifts and thunks is a major departure from before.

Autechre has never been a heavy band, at least by the standards of modern death metal, but the overall more abrasive, nastier sounds on here have in themselves been a major draw for me. As mentioned, “Cipater” has its thunks, and is followed up with straight up static noise (“Rettic Ac”). The more overtly sampled soundscapes here are suited to this; even if Autechre has done much with distorted and chopped up samples in their lifetime, it’s rare that they push the idea so far. This noisy aesthetic even leaks into the calmer and more soothing tracks – “Pule” in particular never reaches any explosive peaks, but its ever growing moans and creaks under the surface make for the sort of vivid synesthetic imagery that Autechre channels at their peak. In general, this sort of contrast makes for interesting tracks; I am definitely a fan.

In the end, I’m not sure if I would put the entirety of Chiastic Slide on a pedestal. The main problem is that some of the tracks in the middle drag on without much payoff. However, when this album excels, it reaches high peaks, and those should more than pay the cost of admission.

Highlights: “Cipater”, “Cichli”, “Pule”, “Nuane”

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Autechre – Tri Repetae (1995)

folderDoes this album reflect Autechre exploring programmed sounds and perhaps the occasional glitch? Probably. Writing about electronic music is a rather different experience than writing about metal, since the intents of the musicians often differ dramatically. Tri Repetae belongs to the ’90s British IDM/ambient techno boom, but it stands apart from even much of what I’ve listened to from it (mind you, I’ve only scratched the surface) by how much it embraces an artificial, cold, structured aesthetic. Very analog at times, or at least I think it is, and if you’ve been reading the words of a certain Australian fellow who doesn’t actually exist, you might end up believing that a person’s beliefs and biases are useful information.

Anyways, Tri Repetae relies quite heavily on repetition; repeat is even in its name if you can’t spell! Songs here have this tendency of starting with one simple loop, then gradually adding more up until some point, dwelling on them for a few minutes, and then gradually fading out in the opposite fashion. Between tracks, there are significant variances in pacing, sound density, and sonic texture, but I’d still say Autechre sticks to their guns throughout this album. There are not particularly many unique musical phrases explored per track, but I’m fairly sure that’s intentional.

Even with the repetitive, trancelike nature of their chosen songwriting method, Autechre has plenty of room to explore aesthetic permutations (How often have you read that before on this blog? For better or worse I have reduced the task of music reviews to a formula). Some tracks emphasize hookish melody, such as “Clipper” and “Eutow”, which allow relatively dense-sounding content to rise from their loop-stacking. Often, however, Tri Repetae tends towards sparser sounds, sometimes by virtue of favoring some frequencies, sometimes by focusing more on percussion, and occasionally just droning to the point of tedium. I’d like to say this album suffers from Kraftwerk syndrome, but unlike to the album I review in the link, I feel these songs are actually better when they’re more accessible. This could be due to Autechre not really dipping into blatant pop music tropes, but regardless, it’s a strong departure from my usual “experimentation = good” claims.

Repeated listens have lead me to believe that this album has reached some level of merge between its aesthetics and its songwriting techniques, which does bode well for it being a unified, coherent album. As mentioned before, it also succeeds in elaborating on its basic ideas without relying on aesthetic changes to remain memorable. Ironically, my favorite songs on here are the ones whose aesthetics appeal most to my listening sensibilities. On the other hand, I find much of this album too sparse for frequent listening, which is saying something given my occasional affinity for minimalist recordings. You could say I’m looking for a denser soundscape.

Highlights: “Dael”, “Clipper”, “Eutow”, “C/Pach”