Last year, Warp Records celebrated its 20th anniversary. One of the effects of this anniversary, apart from making many electronic music fans feel ancient, was a resurgent interest in the label’s back catalogue and, by extension, in the work of Autechre. Now reaching a milestone of their own with Oversteps, their tenth album no less, Autechre deserve such interest and then some. These guys are, after all, an act whose music has consistently been the most pure expression of Warp’s pioneering ethos throughout the years. And that is saying something when the old boys’ network consists of the likes of Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin.
Considering that it arrives at such a significant point in both the artists’ and the label’s history, it might not be a coincidence that Oversteps is an accessible entry point into a catalogue that, in the previous decade, took the faithful down some severely challenging paths (there is a turning point in Autechre’s career, somewhere around the release of Confield, when half their fanbase went screaming down to their nearest paracetamol stockists trailing headphones jacks, never to be seen again). Not only that, but on one level the album plays out like a synthesis of various periods of the duo’s career, such are its masterful shifts in style.
Opener -R Ess’ establishes the record’s somewhat reflective tone magnificently, fading so imperceptibly into existence from an implied deep-space distance that its first 30 seconds are near silent. It is a brilliant start to the album, and the sense of vastness sketched its beautiful receding trails of sound a timely reminder of Autechre’s quasi-miraculous capabilities as producers. From this staggeringly powerful opening movement, Oversteps arcs confidently through various familiar configurations of Autechre’s sound. In -Treale’, the rhythmically clear-cut (though still sliced to ribbons by other producers’ standards) mechanisms that carry the track judder and groove like Tri Repetetae’s epically deconstructed future hip-hop. Elsewhere, the troubled gamelan/harpsichord exuded by tracks like -See on See’ and -Known(1)’ echo the disquieting ambience of Quaristice and the stark, hissing progress of -Os Veix3′ is pure Version 3.0.
Although Oversteps throws many recognisable shapes across its course, it never feels like an exercise in nostalgia. The patterns may be familiar, but the overall mood they create is something a little unusual from Autechre. There is an underlying emotional tug that brings Aphex Twin’s Drukqs to mind. Here, as with that great album, the tag of -cold brilliance’ often attached to this sort of music is challenged by moving evidence of the humans at the controls.