[CD Review] Autechre, Quaristice (Warp)

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Just seeing those four words sets pulses racing among Autechre's loyal fanbase. Since the mid-'90s, Britain's Sean Booth and Rob Brown have been synonymous with electronic music that sounds like the impossibly unfathomable (and intriguing) future. Every Autechre release is a sonic adventure, leading you down convoluted byways heretofore unexplored. That sensation is so rare these days that it takes the listener a while—sometimes years—to adjust to the unfamiliar terrain.

Autechre's m.o. over the past decade has been to usher you through a labyrinth of thorny textures both alien and alienating, while spouting complex algorithmic theorems and punching you about the head and torso in 17/8 (or maybe 13/4) time. It's a uniquely discombobulating experience, sort of like taking DMT and thinking you've been reincarnated as a spheroid caroming around a madly tilting pinball machine.

But on Autechre's ninth album, Quaristice, they occasionally veer into a gentler, more classically “beautiful” melodic mode; overall, the album's less rhythmically manic than their more recent releases. Disc opener “Altibzz” is so tranquil and pastoral it's as shocking as Joanna Newsom going death metal. “Notwo” and “Outh9x” recall the somber meditativeness of Eno's On Land. “The Plc,” however, covers more familiar Autechre ground, with its quasi-danceable whip-crack beats, cricket-like chatter and queasy synth tones contoured into baroquely warped figures. Halfway through, though, the track gets roughed up and fragments into a withered version of the beloved electro on which these producers were weaned.

This epitomizes Autechre's approach: They're deconstructionists, former B-boys paying homage to hip-hop and electro by subverting its tropes, refracting them through the rarefied tonal palette of avant-garde composers such as Iannis Xenakis and Curtis Roads and, less often, the hypnotizing effect of gamelan. The results won't so much inspire breakdancing as they will figurative head-spinning.

Booth and Brown admit they make music with “no agenda, no plan.” But Quaristice sounds like the latest chapter in their ongoing quest to thoroughly disorient you and make you reassess the very definition and “purpose” of music. It's some of the most potent psychedelia you'll ever hear.

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