Our monthly round-up of electronica albums that must make it into your playlist
AutechreÂ -Â Exai
[easyreview cat1title =Exai cat1rating =4]
It’s been a long while since veteran IDM duo Autechre made accessible music – ever sinceÂ LP5Â ,Â no small involvement is expected from the listener in putting together their serrated clips, torn seemingly at random from unfeeling machinery, and converting them into an aesthetically acceptable loop. At two hours,Â Exai, their latest double disc release, is bothÂ overwhelming andÂ difficult to digest, and is certainly not for everyone. Perhaps this is why its mostÂ outrÃ© track, “FLeure”, is also its first – Autechre seem to want to shake any stragglers off this aural journey; this is music for the seasoned.
At the same time, though, phantasmagoricÂ background melodies sew the patchwork into placeÂ and also makeÂ ExaiÂ their most accessible album in years [”˜accessible’ being a relative term here]. “irlite [get O]” onward, it all comes together in grim, vivid detail.Â Softer tracks likeÂ the surprisingly poignant “T ess xi” and “recks on” can easily be entry points for the curious cutting their complex-IDM teeth on this record. There’s even beauty in the pervasive experimentation of “Flep” or “spl9” – half the joy lies in discovering precisely where.Â The highlight, however, is album closer “YJY UX”, as ethereal as it isÂ indescribable.
Make no mistake – this is an extremely engaging listen, one that’s been designed to play with the mind.Â When the whispers that end “bladelores” seem almost human, you tend to cling to them until you’re thrown into the maelstrom once more – because mostly, listening toÂ ExaiÂ is akin to dangling off the railing of a bridge and trying to take in the view at the same time. No amount of deconstruction [were it possible] and elucidation could change the fact that there is no middle ground: you either can or cannot stomach Autechre’s attention to apparently irrelevant minutiae, the stuttering gasps of their more ambient breathers, the order in an alienating chaos.Â ExaiÂ pulls from Autechre’s past to make dense, graphic IDM and set standards for the genre’s future along the way.Â
DJ Koze -Â Amygdala
[easyreview cat1title =Amygdala cat1rating =4]
Two of this month’s picks have chosen to map the European electronic music of 2013 in their own different ways: forÂ The North Borders, Bonobo has marinated his sound in the styles of his contemporaries today and allowed them, strangely, to dominate a record that he’s mostly composed himself.Â EDM wildchildÂ DJ Koze, on the other hand, has a firm grip on his production throughout despiteÂ an impressive array of guest performers onÂ AmygdalaÂ – the songs do carry the subtle signatures of featured artists, but not once does Koze compromise on its cohesion as a result. Koze once notoriously dissed artist collaborations, remarking how they depleted the sound of an album. Â Yet, composing a record almost completely based on them is exactly the skewed logic you can apply to his first studio album in nearly a decade.Â
Without much ado, Koze strides into the kind of nonsensical irreverence the cover art hints at: a quick conversation that begins with “the pills should be kicking in right about now…” before launching into his first single, the tongue-in-cheek “Track ID Anyone?”. Caribou’s snipped voiceÂ claps into place over aÂ single mangled line, and it’s suddenly evident thatÂ AmygdalaÂ isÂ one of those records that’s easy to listen to, but difficult to deconstruct. “Royal Asscher Cut”, for example, is groovy tech house with Â an unlikely wind instrument making a cameo; “Magical Boy”, one of his two excellent tracks showcasing Matthew Dear, is a soup of sounds [filtered female vocals and distantÂ poingsÂ that could only have been sourced from a cartoon or video-game] simmered delicately in an anxious,Â jazzy horn. The albumÂ does taper toward the end, the relegation of its last two tracks to bonus status could have cut loose some dead weight.Â
“Homesick”, “My Plans” and “Amygdala” tend to stand out over a cursory listen, but it’s only when your eardrums stop twitching in anticipation of a crescendo that you can truly marvel at the dance music veteran’s quieterÂ solo efforts like “La Duquesa” or the gossamer favorite “Don’t Lose My Mind.” These are his musical equivalents of the old ”˜journey over destination’ cliche.Â Techno, lounge or psychedelia – however you classify it,Â AmygdalaÂ is best appreciated as a sum of its intricacies.
Bonobo –Â The North Borders
[easyreview cat1title =”The North Borders” cat1rating =3.5]Â
Brit chillout giant Simon Green [aka Bonobo] has always manufactured an immaculate sound. If you’ve followed the burgeoning UK electronic scene, most songs on Bonobo’sÂ The North BordersÂ will seem familiar friends. This fifth album borrows heavily from some of the UK’s most recognizable producers and makes no bones about it – James Blake, Gold Panda, Mmoths, M. J. Cole, Four Tet – the continual onslaught of influence may bother the listener at first but, for the most part, Bonobo brews a smooth blend and tops it off with trademark touches from hisÂ Black SandsÂ  repertoire. The album opens with two of its strongest tunes, “First Fires” rife with the keening press-and-release that Green could probably produce in his sleep by now and the sublime “Emkay,” with atmospheric Four Tet-ish complexities that eventually melting into an endearing sax. “Cirrus,” undeniably has incessant replay value and makes for a smart choice as lead single: Gold Pandaesque chimes pick up some firm sub-bass and percussion on the road into Erykah Badu starrer “Heaven For The Sinner.” “Sapphire” and “Jets” hark back to Bonobo’s trip-hop comfort zone, while “Don’t Wait”Â recalls Caribou until the downtempo settles in. Crisply mastered, the album’s fluidity makes for emotional listening – its energy, however, peters out around “Ten Tigers” and refuses to latch on again.Â
What cripplesÂ The North Borders’Â Â is that, with the notable exception of GreyÂ Reverend, its guest vocalists seem grossly underused and interchangeable [Erykah Badu’s being the most criminal example]. Regardless, fans of the mastermind will not find themselves disappointed by the record.