Aging can dampen the creative spirit of even the most imaginative artists and performers. Nothing says ‘creative vacuum’ like a standup comic doing baby-poo jokes or a wrinkled rocker trying to reclaim past glories. It is not surprising that Autechre, those iconoclastic Warp mainstays, foil convention by sounding the most vital they have in years on their seventh album. Just like the weather in New England, if you don’t like what you are hearing on Quaristice, just wait a moment and it will be a different form of precipitation altogether, a new downpour of sonic buggery. The 20 tracks that make up the 73-minute running time rarely extend longer than four minutes, putting Sean Booth and Rob Brown’s compositional skills into focus. Each individual piece follows a logical progression, and they fit together to form a cohesive, though still confounding, unit.
Since the arrhythmic experimentation of Confield, some have accused Autechre of having disdain for their listeners, abusing their ears needlessly. (They didn’t help by not even bothering to come up with a real title for 2005’s Untitled.) Perhaps they have heeded the cry, as “Altibzz” welcomes us into Quaristice with downright pretty analog synthesizer washes and a firm grounding in the emotional and musical tones they strike throughout the album. Emotional is, of course, a relative term with an Autechre album, as there is nothing to really sympathize with here. Rather, Booth and Brown are masters of using their compositions to put the listener through a dizzying array of mental and physical sensations, the depth of which are entirely dependent on how hard you listen (don’t pull a muscle).
We are really thrust into it with “Plc”, which could even make your head bob with its propulsive, though minimal beat. However, their newfound sense of brevity comes to the fore when the piece soon shifts focus to a fractured, mutated vocal sample. This sense of dichotomy occurs throughout Quaristice. The initial theme in “Perlence” tries to fight its way back into the mix when it is overtaken by a sinister bass line. “Tankakern” breaks the seal of the electronic world with perfectly integrated recordings of birds, hardly noticeable until after repeated listens.
On the grander scale, their arrhythmic, deconstructed compositions, as found on Confield, still have a word on Quaristice. “Fol3” is an overwhelming assault of white noise bursts, an experience akin to having several guns go off next to your ears while having glass shattered on your forehead. Still, the complex arrangement of textures is fascinating even after multiple listens, and it has its appropriate spot in the sequence of the album. The ambient nature of the opener reoccurs in “Palalell Suns” and the closing two tracks, working as a thread that binds the album together.
It is almost tempting to remove the warning label on Quaristice that comes with most Autechre albums, which says “You will only like this if you like Autechre”, but let’s just say the corner is starting to peel. They offer an immense smorgasbord of sound to explore in bite-sized chunks, making it difficult to be too bored or intimidated. Their relevance is still apparent, in that they are surely in the family tree with the uprising noise movement. Quaristice demonstrates Autechre’s ability to pop in every few years with a firm grasp on the present state of electronic music and a strong sense of the compositional. As with any kind of difficult music, it takes time and effort to get at what Sean Booth and Rob Brown had in mind for their seventh album, but the pleasure comes from hearing things they themselves may not have intended.