As usual, I never know what to expect from a new Autechre record. The fact that the Designers Republic was back on board for artwork should have been something of a clue.
This is certainly the most consistent and approachable that they've been in years. The record is restrained and focused, and there's a real emphasis on melody. They've jettisoned the hyper-abstraction and claustrophobic mixing of Untilted, and the disjointed chaos of Quaristice has been reined in. What's left is an album that doesn't convey the need to prove anything.
It's all the more satisfying for that.
This is a patient record with a unified character. There's a sense of space and breathing room that's quite welcome. The atmosphere is reminiscent of Envane's quieter moments and several tracks lack percussion entirely.
Before everyone starts screaming, "OMG ambient record! They remade Amber FTW," bear in mind that this is a more mature animal. It's learned a few things since then, and its teeth are a bit sharper than they were fifteen years ago.
"r ess" feels a bit like a less chilly version of "Uviol," but the drums are muted and placed directly in the center channel, leaving the rest of the spectrum open and lush. Though there's considerable tension between the drums and the ticking loop in the upper register, the hook is the atmosphere, recalling the remote spaces of old Basic Channel recordings.
The bass and drums on "ilander" have the smoky, neon tinge they did on Tri Repetae, but where they were once ordered and robotic, they are aggressive and heavily syncopated here. This one wouldn't sound out of place on the second side of EP7.
"Treale" sounds a bit like the more sedate pieces on Draft 7.30. A bass line, distorted until it sounds like static, is pushed to the far left and right channels. Though it sounds almost traditional on first listen, it picks up steam, and by the end, it's turned into something elegiac and dramatic.
Some tracks, like "known(1)" and "krYlon" tend to drag on a bit, but for every one like that, there are those like "0=o" and "redfall," which are not only complex but quite moving.
"d-sho qub" is an odd red herring of a track that almost sounds like Autechre remixing Chris Clark. In some ways, it's a playful 1990's throwback that's been carefully deconstructed. Though it comes off as a novelty at first, it fits the record in an odd way, and it stands very well on its own. "Yuop" is an exercise in gorgeous distortion and , and a fitting end to the record. It could easily go on twice as long and still be engaging.
Let's hope they consider supplementing this record with longer versions, as they did with Quaristice.
Beauty isn't anything I'd have accused Autechre of in the last few years. Their work has been stimulating and challenging, and often enjoyable on those terms, but it's been a decade since I've found one of their melodies stuck in my head. I find myself reminded of the swell of "Draun Quarter" and the tracks on Garbage, and I'm happy to see that they've found a way to reconcile their old approach with the tricks they've picked up in the meantime.