Album Cover

Autechre:          Exai

Similar Artists:          Aphex Twin

Genre:          IDM

Label:          Warp


Can “unpredictable” still be used as a term to describe Autechre? After all, for 20 years they have churned out album after album of nightmarishly difficult IDM while maintaining a similar aesthetic. To be truly unpredictable, Autechre would have to make a pop album with traditional verse chorus verse song structure. Of course, that is not the case here, as Exai, the duo’s 11th album, continues to break all of the rules and then some. This is music that adheres to no principles or formalities, and the lack of grounding can often seem like what you are listening to isn’t music at all. Although us fans have become somewhat used to Autechre’s blend of broken, seemingly haphazard metal machine music, it remains shocking and exhilarated for the fact that only a handful of other producers can make music this complex.

This will most likely be the most difficult album I will ever attempt to review. Sean Booth and Rob Brown have gotten progressively harsher and more disorienting as the years have gone by; this enormous quadruple LP is a continuation of their claim to fame and raises the stakes yet another bar. The album’s length is truly menacing when one is considering the music we are dealing with. While lengthy albums/EPs were always the name of the game for this group, this is by far their longest. What makes this length tolerable (and what many critics seem to not understand) is that you are not required to listen to all of it in one sitting. No one is asking you to digest these tracks on the first go around, and the reason is because it’s impossible. You are going to have to devote a lot of time with this behemoth to really sink your teeth in, and I certainly hope that you do, because what it contains is excellent.

Enjoyment from this album will be based on if you are willing to listen repeatedly for at least a few days (more if you are new to this group). On the first track, “Fleure” we are immediately dropped into the unrelenting storm of non-repeating patterns and unfollowable structure that represents the band at their most volatile. Although this is one of the shortest tracks on the album, it is representative of the 16 yet to come. A complaint here would be that the track sequencing doesn’t allow for many breaks. There are no ambient interludes in play to calm our nerves or help us readjust. Exai is raw, and often sounds as if it’s being played live. So a recommendation for your own safety: if your brain can’t handle anymore ricochet percussion and stabbing collisions of metal then you should probably take a break.

While my favorite way to describe this duo is “a fucked version of 90’s UK elektro”, Autechre have proved they can make music that is entirely mechanical and inhuman, yet somehow melancholic and evocative. Some might say that Autechre did a better job of harnessing this balance on their earlier work, (I would have to agree with this) but the best of these tracks still hover around the line of tranquility and disgust. Playing games with our senses is what many of the best electronic producers are capable of, and it is why Autechre’s music often sounds fresh after years of listening to it. Although this is a new album, I believe these tracks will prove to have similar longevity. It is not hard to see that these two are working at the top of their game.

So despite what some might claim, these tracks do have feeling attached to them. The emotion is certainly buried under broken, erratically placed keyboards and schizophrenic drum programming, but the best of these tracks represent coalescence between man and machine. Possibly more than anyone else, Booth and Rob Brown’s create music that suggests they are one with the machines they are working with.

Pretentious is a term thrown at these guys quite a bit, but Autechre are not in this business in an attempt to create the most bastardized and incomprehensible music of their time. Even at Exai’s most chaotic, everything from the jackhammer bass to the nefarious drones and pulsating collisions of high-end effects loops are purposeful. While previous albums, such as the heavily disputed “Confield”, have incorporated randomly programmed generators, the musicians are in complete control of the music experience this time around.

I will end this review by mentioning that I crashed my car while listening to this album. Surprisingly, when speaking of something this abrasive, the accident occurred because I fell asleep at the wheel. While this isn’t the kind of music that would be able to lull most to sleep, in the exhausted state of mind I was in, I couldn’t resist the transportative qualities the current track was suggesting. Eventually, fighting against my dream state was not an option. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but the experience made me think about the power that music has over us. If it can convince me that entering a dream state is more important than driving, than this stuff should come with a warning label.


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