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Posted on April 12th, 2010 (3:57 pm) by Ryan Hall

Rob Brown and Sean Booth’s output over the last 20-plus years has been a constant battle of wills, with their shares of victories and defeats, between man and machine. Autechre straddle the line between the organic and the mechanical, a constant question of which is controlling which. Brown and Booth let their beats run roughshod over 2001’s Confield, the duo dictating only the very basics in song structure before unleashing sequenced beats that fit into randomized successions wherever they could find space. The result ranged from glorious to terrifying moments of aleatoric happenstance. To the undiscerning ear Confield seemed completely random, although a careful listen prove otherwise. Several quasi-ambient and some harsher, more menacing later releases culminated in 2008’s Quaristice, a bifurcated album that showed a steady direction toward warmer, more human tones draped over skeletal song structures. While never a group to give easy answers in terms of linear progression from this style to that style, Oversteps does make the case for Autechre as humans working from inside a machine, giving faint signals of life through twisted steel and input cables.

Listen closely with good headphones to the album opener “r ess.” Can you hear it? Just faintly… the monophonic swell of a man’s voice. Is he alone? Part of a choir? These questions aren’t answered as the voice is quickly processed in and beneath the mix and matched with heavy synth delays. Rejoice in the human hands playing the melody! This moment, however brief, is one of the most thrilling on the album, and marks one of the best opening tracks on an Autechre album.

This promising start (depending on what side of the man vs. machine divide you are on) doesn’t guarantee that Autechre will make things easy for a first-time or casual listener. Spending an hour alone with this album is thoroughly engaging—a guessing game of where a catchy trip-hop bass line might end up after Autechre process it through the millions of knob twisting whirligigs and black market analog, low-end destroyers. Commuting or reading along to this album: frustrating. Grating even. Autechre are not willing to meet you half way. That isn’t to say Oversteps isn’t enjoyable. It is. But it demands your full attention.

Beats on Oversteps have their place in recognizable musical patterns before they are dissected, put through a washing machine of delays and tempo changes, and spit out the other side. Rhythms range from the tight-fisted two-step of the album opener to oriental gamelan clank-and-clatter of “known-1,” to ambient beatless synth-scapes on “see on see.” The beats do, however, do follow some prescribed musical expectations. The rearview-mirror-shaking bass devastates the lowest frequencies with fuzz on the cracked, hip-hop inspired “Treale.” One of their more inviting numbers “d-sho qub” replaces heavy synth washes with sampled vocal loops over an 8-bit melodic line in the almost tropical sounding dub.

There are moments when Oversteps actually sounds like a battleground where human musical statements are stymied by a sense of non-linear editing. Synth- lines are cut short before they reach their climax on “r ess,” the melody on “known-1” is punched full of holes, siphoned through a tiny sieve, picked apart, displaced and then resurrected as a Frankenstein’s Monster of barely recognizable snippets and discarded odds-and-ends. With moves this meticulous, it is difficult to imagine computers possessing this level of aesthetic awareness or the obvious joy of discovery that Brown and Booth geek out over.

Oversteps, for all of its seemingly aleatory elements, is still very much programmed, directed, even played by two human beings. Who knows when Autechre is going to run their course, but after another two decades of making music we may be able to look back to Oversteps as a cumulative statement in which the term “electronic artist” actually made sense.

Track List:
1. r ess
2. ilanders
3. known-1
4. pt2ph8
5. qplay
6. see on see
7. Treale
8. os veix3
9. O=0
10. d-sho qub
11. st epero
12. redfall
13. krYlon
14. Yuop

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

79 / 100
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