Autechre compiles twelve singles and EPs, a boxset of ideas and experiments intimidating -- but worthy -- in scope.
Take a breath: this is a lot of music. Like, six hours, five discs, one decade. Autechre, titans of IDM or whatever we should call it (“Warp Records” should say enough), have been around for two decades now. Think of this box set as a celebration, a compendium of the first half of the group’s EPs. Here’s what you get for your time and money: “Cavity Job” (1991, and never released since its initial pressing), Basscadet (1994), Anti EP (1994), Garbage (1995), Anvil Vapre (1995), the band’s first Peel Session (1995), Envane (1997), Chichlisuite (1997), EP7 (1999), Peel Session 2 (2001), and Gantz Graf (2002). In other words, it’s an investment.
But give EPs 1991-2002 time to breathe, and you can find the narrative here. To simplify, Autechre moves from the complex but recognizable club fare of “Cavity Job” and the Basscadet remixes to the challenging abstractions of EP7 and Gantz Graf. Though practically impossible to inhale in one breath, the collection gives a clear sense of a restless team, of Sean Booth and Rob Brown’s relentless forward momentum. Some of the sounds here still resonate as utterly unique, ten years down the line -- some are downright alien (“Rpeg” and “Gaekwad” sound like extraterrestrial animals calling out to one another in a courtship ritual). In a way, the box could serve almost as well as an entry-point into the group’s catalog for a beginner as it would for a completionist or superfan. Dive in at random, take in a few minutes or an hour of music, and see what you’re left with when you come back up for air.
The quality -- as it would be for almost any act, chronicled over eleven years’ time -- is spotty. Some of the older material (“Accelera 1 & 2,” those “Basscadet” interpretations) sounds dated, clattering or pulsing too closely to the early ‘90s and bad memories of spiked hair and glo-sticks. But much of it, particularly the band’s dizzying aural landscapes in the EP7 and Gantz Graf material and the Eno-nodding ambiance of Garbage, remains as pristine as fruit in a vacuum. The opportunity to look at those particular releases side-by-side also gives you a sense of Booth and Brown’s range, their ability to go maximal or minimal with equal dexterity.
Ultimately, you can find almost anything at all on these discs that your palette would desire -- beautiful, silky synths or clattering, jarring beats; one droning note underlying a track’s reticent appeal or seemingly thousands of noises vying for position in the mix; soft solitary music or loud celebratory sounds. The collective impression: Awe, not at how each of these songs or EPs are flawless (they aren’t), but at how much distinctive music Autechre has managed to produce. And these aren’t even proper albums. In the ‘90s, these songs sounded like the future -- we would be lucky if we’d keep moving in that direction 20 years down the road.