What is Autechre, really? Plenty would argue that they started out in the highly recognizable techno house etc. genres, before branching out. Nothing properly suits them – they can go from hip-hop to highly complex Xenakis-influenced rhythms within the same minute. Their only true path has been one towards ever more mechanical textures. Slowly but surely they have surrendered to the almighty power of the machines, hence why their first album Incunabula relates little to their origami rhythms of Confield. They tend to work through various periods. Early Autechre represents a sort of chilled out post party ambience. Later they would bring on the beats, more and more until it almost veered on a post-rave noise fest (like Gantz Graf) then sort of returned to a compromise between the two (Draft 7.30 and Untilted).
elseq 1-5 follows this natural progression. Coming after their jammy work of Exai this is by far their largest release, at a daunting four plus hours. If Pitchfork states that Exai needed editing then this might be a bit too intense for many. For the rest though, those who have been long-time fans, the ones who literally take a day off work to immerse themselves in the sound, well this album may require a week. Even if this was a shorter release it would be no less challenging. Unlike the gentler spirit of Exai, elseq 1-5 is relentless. This means that the beats hit harder, are in general far less stable, and the melodies even more subservient. By letting disorder reign supreme Autechre create an entire ecosystem to get lost in, offering little in the way of relief.
Across the entire album the main theme seems to be between stripping the sound apart and morphing it together resulting in uneasy layers of sound. Much of the sound appears to be in flux, slowly being tortured and teased into strange new combinations. While listening to it, the notion that Aphex Twin would be the Mozart of IDM and Autechre the Bach makes a lot of sense. Though Aphex Twin’s music can be harsh, can be confrontational, there is at least something to grasp onto throughout it all, a kernel an element from rave culture sharply twisted about. Autechre in general rebel against this concept, going further and further down the rabbit hole, giving listeners an increasingly digital landscape with few creature comforts. Even at the most intense they have a slightly wry sense of humor, like how at the center of Gantz Graf had a cute little melody centering it all. Releasing a four plus hour album, with many songs clocking in at over twenty minutes, gives very little in the way of comfort. Autechre have essentially created an endurance test for the listener with some of these pieces ranking as their harshest, no mean feat for musicians known for their uncompromising textures.
Highlights abound throughout the collection. Much of what they have done throughout is offer the listener a view of a strange world, at times quite moving. Part of how “foldfree” manages its graceful air is in part due to the massive pulverizing beats of “acdwn2” and even earlier the absolutely eerie “elyc6 0nset” the latter being one of the creepiest things they’ve ever made. Others hint at their fondness for drone, like the nearly gregorian groan of noise on “eastre” which at times resembles an organ swell that can’t quite seem to reach the necessary level of foreboding. A few tracks are even straightforward enough at first to seem nearly normal, such as the just askew beats of “TBM2” whose relatively stable sound is a welcome relief after so much running around through digital shards of melodies.
Essentially Autechre seem to be following an artist’s path to their work. At first releasing things quite slowly they now seem to be in a more prolific period. Lots of artists, as they get further along in their career, sometimes simply stop. Those artists who continue moving forward, as they move further down in their careers they are able to get a better sense of what they want, of what they need to do. Hence it would make sense that Autechre, after a particularly large amount of touring, would decide to release such a large swath of material. Pan Sonic released a similar amount of work “Kesto” after an extensive tour. Since Autechre now have a better sense of what works and what doesn’t it would make sense that this is what they would want to release, dealing with the art digitally, the music digitally, and not worrying about a physical release.
Colossal in undertaking, elseq 1-5 does possess a singular heart tying it all together: the drone. Melodies may dissolve under the weight of so much industrial edged beats and percussive elements, but the drones are the constant. Even at their most subverted they help to try and keep things intact. At times the sounds feel related to Exai’s more pastoral approach, though in general Autechre goes for a less joyful mood throughout. This is certainly unpleasant terrain: nasty brutish and endless.
Downright beautiful in its many twists and far more ambitious (both in terms of sheer length and variety of textures) elseq 1-5 proves that Autechre is a band positively relentless in its pursuit of nearly uncontrolled chaos.