Long-haul Autechre fans may grouse, but to these ears, the English electronica duo only really hit their stride with the convolutions and buckled architectures of 2001’s Confield. Notably, this was the point at which their interest in percussives and rhythm catapulted, and while they’d focused on irregular beats for the polemical Anti EP, recorded to contravene the Criminal Justice Bill, their early noughties trilogy of Confield, Draft 7.30 and Untilted (and satellite EP Gantz_Graf) saw Autechre jettison most of the peculiarly lovely melody that characterized their earlier music, and microscope in on beats and noise that replicated fractally.
Naysayers accused Autechre of becoming inhuman (as if there wasn’t enough humanity on the planet, anyway). But if their new record Oversteps lacks anything, it’s the ‘inhumanity’ that had the duo labeled as the most alien electronica experts of our time. Some of this new record feels backwards, almost obscene in its softness, with the brittle, spun-glass tones that fall through “see on see” almost gaudy and trite compared to what had come before. There’s a new priority on (a)melody over rhythm here, and while it’s nice, at what cost is this new fascination to the form of their peerless trilogy?
Unsurprisingly, Autechre still excel when they zoom in on the percussive. In “ilanders,” the drums are somehow both crunchy and wet, recalling at times the rustling of a plastic bag, or the fervent hammering of metal cogs and pistons. The following “known(1)” features digital, almost rubbery chimes. If Autechre’s gig has been to open electronica up to cross-sensory perceptions, they’re still closer to material and industrial analogies than, say, the coloristic or naturalistic synaesthesia of many of their peers – instead of warmth and light, or reds and blues, here we have iron filings, aluminum cladding, liquid metals, fluorescent strobes, circuits, filament.
Oversteps can trudge a bit – there’s a ponderousness to some of the cuts that’s borne of that most un-Autechreish of values, predictability. It takes a while for the exhilaration to kick in, but when it does, it’s worth the wait: “d-sho qub,” the album’s highlight, runs an arpeggiated melody across the ear’s screen as you trace disappearing smudges of sound across the stereo spectrum. A surprisingly stock-standard pulse quickly dissolves at the two-minute mark, as the track devolves and reconstitutes in dub. It’s exciting because, for a few minutes, Autechre’s machines run faster than our brains, keying us into what could have been, rather than Oversteps’s more prosaic moments.