Autechre: Confield

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Autechre

Album: Confield
Label: Warp

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The relatively mainstream embrace of Mouse On Mars' last album, Niun Niggung, signaled a wider acceptance of programmed music coming out of the vast underground that percolates below critical darlings like Underworld and Orb. It helped that the disc may have been the Düsseldorf duo's best to date, but Mouse On Mars had been working its way toward that album for several years, with each release a fresh surprise that often shed light on its predecessor. With that in mind, Mouse On Mars' Idiology appears at first like yet another radical shift in direction, starting with the agitated funk of "Actionist Respoke" before settling into a reassuringly wild and diverse set of organic electronica. Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner continue to create soundscapes that blur the line between programming and live musicianship, and sometimes between Earth and outer space. "Subsequence" mixes dub technique and jazzy piano with Kraftwerk-like minimalism, while "The Illking" mocks/mimics chamber classical. On tracks like "Presence," singing drummer Dodo Nkishi serves as the group's own Damo Suzuki, inspiring more sublime lunacy than usual. The disc's unpredictability should strike even dedicated fans of the group, let alone relative newcomers, which may be why Mouse On Mars suddenly attracts such fascination. Plaid's Ed Handley and Andy Turner, formerly of the electro outfit Black Dog, used to be as playful as Mouse On Mars, but recent releases have found the London duo returning to more earnest composition. Double Figure features the usual cool, sedate beats and spooky synth lines, but like Mouse On Mars, Plaid labors to keep humanity in its music. The disc ranges from Vangelis-esque dirges to beautifully chiming background music to sprightly pop melodies, and Handley and Turner rarely fail to give the impression that somebody is in the studio pressing the buttons. Sheffield's Autechre couldn't be more different. Rob Brown and Sean Booth have long dedicated themselves to creating music that sounds like it designed itself, with audio fractals that change constantly like living organisms. Confield, Autechre's sixth full-length and its best release since 1997's Chiastic Slide, may also be its most ambitious. "VI Scose Poise" recalls a bunch of bouncing ball bearings before a subtle melody eventually emerges, while "Pen Expers" sounds like LL Cool J's "Radio" spit through a garbage disposal. Picking up where Aphex Twin left off, Booth and Brown have become the genre's leaders, setting the bar higher with each release, and Confield is no different. In fact, the two basically exist in a class unto themselves, since no group seems capable of catching up to their mysterious advances. Then again, Autechre, Mouse On Mars, and Plaid are so distinctive that it's hard to even compare them. Outsiders might just hear more stuttering beats and synthesizers, but all three acts clearly revel in the iconoclastic rush of creating something new.

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