I've decided to get into this buyers' guides lark. I thought I'd better start with Autechre, since so many people ask where the best place to start is. And it's such a difficult question to answer, and it needs more than a quickly scribbled message.
"Who tha fook?"
Autechre (Ae for short) are Sean Booth and Rob Brown. They came from Rochdale, and met during school through a mutual friend in the early 1980s. They started out exchanging mixtapes. Hip-hop was their love, and Booth's tagging could be found all over Rochdale. This may surprise some, but delve deep enough and you'll find hip-hop influences all over Ae's work.
"These track titles are so pretentious."
Yes they are. Apparently some of them do allude to something, but the references are so esoteric that there is little point in trying. There's a decent attempt at the website, The Words Of Autechre, but I don't think you should really read _too_ much into them..
"This is all just noise."
It seems that way to start with, but I can assure you after a few listens you'll be finding rhythms and melodies all over the shop. If you don't like an Ae album, try again. Put it on in the background. If you still don't like it - and if you dare! - try a different album from another period, because it could be very different. You may have to stick with it and work hard at it, but in my opinion it's well worth the effort.
"Where's the best place to start?"
Hm, depends. Read below.
Cavity Job (Hardcore, 1991) 12”
Ae's ultra-rare first single, "for MYSLB Productions". From what I've heard of it, it is a nod to what they were to go on to do in their first album, Incunabula, but with more of a hip-hop bite. Other than that, I can't comment much on this. Apparently, for reasons which I've never been able to find out, Ae had real problems with this label. They signed to Warp instead.
Incunabula (Warp, 1993) album
The signing to Warp was a departure for both Warp and Ae - ironic given the fact that Ae are now regarded as the archetypal Warp artist. Part of Warp’s seminal ‘Artificial Intelligence’ series, this is the only Ae album which sounds its age. It's the early 1990s and you know it. That's not to say that it isn't good, because it's great, and there is some very impressive sounding stuff going on. If you want to explore Ae in 4/4, this is probably the album for you. There are even hints at emotion in some tracks, like Aut Riche. But the standout track for me is undoubtedly Lowride, a must-listen for me. It starts of just like any other track, but then there is a bit of a departure when the vocals come in. [****]
Basscad,ep (Warp, 1994) ep
Remixes of Basscadet, a track from Incunabula. Three of them are reworkings by Ae themselves, the others are remixes by Beaumont Hannant and Seefeel. There is some good stuff on this, but it is the Ae release which I listen to the least. For the fans only, I think. [***]
Anti EP (Warp, 1994) ep
Ae released this EP in protest at the Criminal Justice Bill, which was going to ban large gatherings of people where music with repetitive beats was being played. Two of the tracks contained offending beats, but the third one, Flutter, was programmed deliberately to avoid repetition. Despite this, it is actually the most coherent track on the EP, although the other two are good aswell. [***]
Amber (Warp, 1994) album
This is my least favourite Ae album. I don’t really know why. It’s their most relaxing album; it has fewer beats than the others. I think it is the perfect morning album. Once, when I woke up early in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep again, I put this album on and it was perfect. Even the artwork looks like the morning. Ae don’t sound so dated in this album. However, they were yet to become a great band. It’s not for me, but it could very well be for you. There are some simply beautiful tracks. The standout for me is Silverside. [***]
Garbage (Warp, 1995) ep
This is a genius EP; possibly their best. Quiet, pulsating, hypnotic beats intertwine with snatches of vocals, with a backdrop of ambient melody. It sounds closer to something by Steve Reich than Incunabula. This whole EP is a joy to listen to, but Ae save the best until last, with the amazing Vletrmx. Entirely beatless, this track begins like a whisper, but builds up to an enormous intensity. And it sounds _real_. If you like your ambient music, this really is a must. [****]
Anvil Vapre (Warp, 1995) ep
Ae enter another new era. They’ve taken a sharp left turn, and this is the beginning of when sonic intricacies became more important. Having said that, the first track, Second Bad Vilbel, is a real thumper of a tune. It starts off with white noise, but before long you’re hit by a tirade of distinct beats. Think of Radiohead’s Idioteque, but louder. However, the standout for me is Second Peng. Pots and pans can be heard clanging in time to a sleazy melody crawling around it. [****]
Tri Repetae (Warp, 1995) album
Ae became a bit more experimental in this album, edging towards the sound which has become their trademark. Having said that, it’s not really a difficult album to get into. There is some good fun stuff here. I think it would sound like a good WipEout soundtrack. But this is not one of my favourite Ae albums. The standout for me is Eutow, a fun, intense track. [****]
We R Are Why (Warp, 1996) 12”
A vinyl-only rarity, sold exclusively through Warp’s online shop. From the samples I’ve heard, this is nothing too spectacular; probably just a couple of discarded old tracks.
Envane (Warp, 1997) ep
This is one of my favourite EPs. The cover artwork is an interesting interpretation of Falling Waters. The music is just as interesting. Ae began to have multiple layers of percussion sounds, making the listening experience more involved. My favourite track is undoubtedly Goz Quarter, which has percussion elements building up and up, when a scratched-up vocal sound comes in. Then an ambient backdrop like the sort you’d find on Garbage joins in the fun. By the end it is a truly captivating listen. [****]
Chiastic Slide (1997, Warp) album
For me, this is the perfect bridge between the Amber / Tri Repetae style of the past, and the [lp5] / Confield sound of the present. It sounds quite dirty, with lots of static sitting alongside pleasing melodies, but all with a distinct beat. This album is notable for its sonic greatness aswell as its melodies. The problem is, though, if you start with this album, you won’t really know where to go next as it really doesn’t go hand-in-hand with any other Ae albums. This album saw the beginning of another Ae trademark, the epic final track which goes on and on for ages. The one on this album, Nuane, fascinates me. But the standout for me is Cipater. I love the little grace notes this track has. [****]
Radio Mix (1997, Warp) promo
Originally available for streaming on Warp’s website, a promo of this release was pressed in very limited quantities. The mix consists of remixes by either Ae themselves, or Gescom (more on Gescom later). On the CD, the hour-long mix is followed by a short interview. The mix is still available on the Warp website here. [****]
Cichlisuite (1997, Warp) ep
Pronounced ‘sickly sweet’, this is an EP of remixes of the remains of Chiastic Slide. It’s short but sweet. This strikes me as being more accessible than other Ae releases. It’s not covered in white noise like Chiastic Slide, with the emphasis very much on melody. My favourite is Krib, because it sounds relaxing and yet so focused at the same time. [****]
untitled [lp5] (1998, Warp) album
After a hectic 1997, Ae returned in late 1998 with an album with no title (it’s known most commonly as LP5, but also Autechre) and no artwork as such (although I really like the packaging – a black jewel case with ‘autechre’ etched on the front). Many Ae fans said they returned without decent music aswell. But I think this is untrue. This is Ae’s most diverse album. A cacophony of beats can be juxtaposed with something resembling a lullaby. The standout is Arch Carrier, which sounds quite dissonant at first but fully makes sense by the end. [****]
Peel Session (1999, Warp) Peel session TX 13/10/1995
Ae’s 1995 Peel Session perhaps requires you to cast your mind back to the Tri Repetae era. There are three fascinating tracks here, but I don’t listen to this all that often. Inhake 2 is my highlight from this release. [***]
EP7 (1999, Warp) ep
This ‘EP’ lasts almost 70 minutes long, but is called an EP because the vinyl edition came as two separate releases (EP7.1 and EP7.2). At first I found this to be a boring release. But after time, it’s become one of my favourite Ae releases. This is often described as Ae’s most colourful release. And despite this taking a huge leap towards the Confield-style ‘noise’, I would agree. The standout is Netlon Sentinel. Everybody told me, and when I heard it I wondered what all the fuss was about. But although it starts out sounding confused and out-of-focus, a most beautiful ambient soundscape emerges towards the end. If you buy this release, it may take you a while to get into, but it is well worth the effort in my opinion. [****]
Splitrmx12 (Warp, 1999) 12”
Another rare promo 12” release, this time consisting of remixes of Neu! and Bic?.
Peel Session 2 (Warp, 2001) Peel session TX 08/09/1999
Ae’s second Peel session is better than their first. Released in the run-up to the release of Confield, Peel Session 2 didn’t give the game away, sticking largely to the EP7 sound. The best track, Gelk, sounds like something bouncing on the stings of a piano with a clockwork percussion system behind it. This is good stuff, but probably not a good place to start, as it gives no real indication of Ae’s other work. [****]
Confield (Warp, 2001) album
Legendary. This is the album which sounds most like the Ae stereotype. It is mesmerising, and it gets better with every listen. But you will probably not like it when you first listen to it. I didn’t. And even though this was my first Ae album, it is definitely not a recommended starting point, as you will probably never want to hear of Ae again. My favourite track keeps on changing, as I keep on seeing these tracks from different angles, and my appreciation of them increases all the time. Please read my fuller review of Confield: A1047368 [*****]
Gantz Graf (Warp, 2002) ep / dvd
Gantz Graf took the noisy-yet-melodic style of Confield to a whole new level. Despite the majority of the title track being devoid of almost any form of what it conventionally known as ‘melody’, this is one of the most melodic-sounding Ae tracks I’ve heard. Clocking in at under four minutes, along with the fact that it has a video and the release was eligible to enter the singles chart, I see this as Ae’s idea of going ‘mainstream’. The B-sides are amazing aswell. If there was an album full of tracks as good as these then it would undoubtedly be the best album around. [*****]
There was a DVD to accompany Gantz Graf, containing all of Ae’s videos – Basscadet, Second Bad Vilbel and Gantz Graf. Basscadet is fully computer animated, and is quite painful to watch as it was made in 1994. It’s pixellated, jumpy and jerky. Second Bad Vilbel is a bit better, but the real attraction of the DVD is the Gantz Graf video. This was the first (and best) video by the graphic designer Alexander Rutterford, who has since gone on to do videos for Amon Tobin and Radiohead. The video complements the music almost perfectly. A lot of people dislike it because it’s abstract; without a narrative. But so is Ae’s music, so it seems like a perfect fit to me! [***]
Draft 7.30 (Warp, 2003) album
It seemed as though Ae had taken a step backwards with the release of Draft 7.30. It didn’t sound as peerlessly futuristic as Confield. But this is the Ae release which I listen to the most. What Ae have actually done is move their music onto a whole different level, which seeks to try and make the Confield style fun and funky. It’s still all as convoluted as before, but each track has something in there which makes it a blast to listen to. You don’t need your thinking cap on to ‘get’ this album, but it will help. I would suggest this is a good starting point if you want to explore the contemporary Ae sound. [*****]
Gescom is another group which Booth and Brown have been involved in. Most of their releases are rare and vinyl-only. Gescom is most associated with the Skam record label which Booth and Brown helped to set up. It should be noted that Booth and Brown have not been involved in all Gescom work. Artists used to be credited, but these days it is a matter of speculation who’s involved in what. I’ve not heard the vast majority of this stuff, and I’ve included it for the sake of completion only. However, both Warp and Skam are putting their back catalogues up on the new digital download service, Bleep, so we may well get to hear them some time in the near future. [* = definite Booth / Brown involvement.]
Motor (Source, 1991) 12”
A/B (Skam, 1994) 12” *
C/D (Skam, 1995) 12” *
The Sounds Of Machines Our Parents Used (Clear, 1995) 12”
Keynell (Skam, 1996) ep
Keynell Remixes (Warp, 1996) 12”
Remixes of Gescom’s Keynell tracks by Ae. You can already hear and buy this on Bleep. What I’ve heard of it sounds great, a bit similar to Chiastic Slide, with a bit of Vletrmx thrown in for good measure.
That (Skam, 1998) 12”
This (Skam, 1998) 12”
This contains remixes by Ae.
Minidisc (Or, 1998) minidisc
A Minidisc-only release with 80-or-so tracks designed to be played in ‘random’ mode. Interesingly, Ae are thought to have been involved.
Iss:Sa (Skam, 2003) ep
I actually have this one! Ae are thought to have been involved, as one of these tracks has been played in an Ae live set. This is quite good, an enjoyable listen. It sounds a few years old, and not as good as most Ae. But this is good stuff. The CD version comes with a fifteen minute-long megamix, which doesn’t really go along with the rest of Iss:Sa. My favourite track is the title track. [****]
Lego Feet (Skam, 1991) 12”
The first Skam release is Ae under the name of Lego Feet.