Music

Autechre: Untilted

Tim O'Neil

There is a degree of work involved in acclimating one's self to the extremely heady altitudes at which Autechre dwell, but it is trivial compared to the serious delights that await the conscientious listener.


Autechre

Untilted

Label: Warp
US Release Date: 2005-04-19
UK Release Date: 2005-04-18
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At the risk of seeming flip, I will venture to say that at this point you probably know where you stand on Autechre's newest album before you hear so much as a single beat. Nothing else quite sounds like Autechre. There's no mistaking them for any of their peers in acts like Aphex Twin or Squarepusher, because for all the inhuman fury of those artists' frantic contortions there is still a very human core at the heart of almost everything they do. Autechre, however, are unique among almost all music of any kind in that they strive to eliminate all elements of human emotion, indeed, all elements of human presence, from their work. At their best, Autechre create the kind of pristine music you imagine computers would make if computers had any need for music: hermetically sealed and permeated with a frighteningly foreign intelligence.

Untilted is an excellent disc, unremarkable only in terms of the fact that Autechre have rarely released anything which falls short of their demanding standards. There is no discernable difference between the music on this disc and the music on 2003's Draft 7.30 -- and while their sound has definitely evolved and advanced since their formative years in the post-acid days of Warp's ground-breaking Artificial Intelligence series, they seem to have achieved something of a plateau. It would be difficult, in other words, for their music to become more recognizably Autechre without converting the soundwaves to inaudible electrical impulses.

If there are any significant differences between Untilted and their most recent work on Draft 7.30 and 2002's Gantz Graf EP, it would be a slightly more pronounced obeisance to the constraints of rhythmical pattern. Whereas much of their most recent material has flaunted a studied indifference to even the rudiments of consistent rhythm -- often establishing a regular beat for only a handful of measures before utterly demolishing it over the course of a six- or eight-minute long track -- the material on Untilted seems more willing to allow the listener the relative relief of a consistent beat. It may be in 8/4 or something similarly baroque, but it's there.

Some refer to this kind of music as "challenging" or "alienating", but I find it exciting on a very visceral level. Pop music is great but a steady diet has the tendency to atrophy the critical faculties of even the most discerning listener. This isn't pop. This is as complex, creative and invigorating as anything else being recorded today in any genre. There is a degree of work involved in acclimating one's self to the extremely heady altitude at which Autechre dwell, but it is trivial compared to the serious delights that await the conscientious listener.

It's almost besides the point to attempt to describe Autechre's sound to any degree of specificity. The album opens with "LCC", which begins with a sound somewhere between rusted sheet metal being hit with a baseball bat and exploding firecrackers. The comparatively simple rhythm is gradually expanded to include progressively elaborate mutant snare and high-hat patterns. The rhythm is beaten down and broken up into its respective parts; there are loping, dissonant trip-hop interludes; there are oddly disconcerting synthesizer notes looming in the background. Seven and a half minutes after it begins it recedes into a fog of digital squelches and bleeps. Wait a second and the process begins over again with "Ipacial Section": a frantic rhythm is established, different elements are introduced, strange interludes become dominant refrains. Eventually the song ends, sounding much different than it did to begin with but still like nothing else. The elaborately-constructed structures make every track a complete universe in and of itself, with exquisitely designed themes, counter-themes and movements. It may seem random at first, but there is always an integral logic at work. Finding it is half the fun.

Song titles are typicially useless in the world of IDM, and Autechre are no exception to this rule. Anyone looking over the track listing might be fooled by the presence of a track called "The Trees", simple among such heady labels as "Pro Radii" and "Iera", but really, this track has no more to do with any kind of peaceful arboreal scene than the rest of the album: it begins with frantic percussion and evolves to dizzyingly complex heights before dissolving into static. "Sublimit" finishes the album in high style, including an odd Bizarro homage to old-school electro and a barrage of noises that sound like nothing so much as Pac-Man being tortured like a political prisoner. It lasts over fifteen minutes but it never seems to wear out its welcome.

Some people get their jollies by poring over the lyric sheets of their favorite singer-songwriter's latest release, or collecting all the multiple mix-tape appearances of their favorite underground MCs -- me, I listen to albums like Untilted over and over again until the chaos starts to make sense. It's scary and odd, just two steps away from white noise and absolute disaster at any given second, but it is also the smartest and most commanding music currently being released by almost anyone, anywhere. There's not a lot here to grab onto unless you're willing to immerse yourself in a world of totally alien sensation. If you are willing to accept the challenge, there is a chance you will find yourself significantly changed by the experience.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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