Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Autechre - Confield (2001)

A massive watershed moment for one of my favourite British electronic artists.  We've touched on Richard D James' catalogue early on in this blog, and no doubt will again; but today, from the same stable of early 90s Warp-ed electronica comes an album from Sean Booth and Rob Brown at the time when they reached far beyond those roots to definitively stake out their cold, clinical universe of alien machine music.

Ever since Confield's 2001 release, Autechre have become notorious in some critical quarters for pursuing circuit-bending inaccesability for its own sake.  If Cluster's Qua was described as a sketchbook, your average latter-day Autechre album can be more like an afternoon-long slog round an art gallery full of giant, multi-faceted metal sculptures that take about 7 or 8 minutes on average just to walk round each one once, let alone take in a meaningful impression.  Whether this is actually a bad thing, or, if you're like me, something to be relished, is purely a matter of taste.

What actually strikes me about re-listening to Confield now for this writeup is that it's actually not nearly as difficult and unapproachable as a lot of critical reviews would have you believe.  There's a gentle start of sorts, with what sounds like lots of little metal balls rolling around, over which we do get an actual melody, albeit a minor-key one that floats around in aloof isolation.  For such a supposedly anti-melodic record, the second track, Cfern, has even more recognisable reference points, with a winding melody set over a loping groove.  From Pen Expers onwards, we're into the album's solid core, as the synths gradually become increasingly buried and twisted into the unearthly sculptures.  If you make it all the way to the end of Lentic Catachresis to exit the gallery through the gift shop, I highly recommend just starting all over again. And again.

"...a malfunctioning dishwasher or a CD jumping. Forever."
  - Fiona Shepherd, reviewing Confield for The Scotsman newspaper