1.'Amber' by Douglas Wolk from CMJ
Anyone who's ever sat transfixed in front of a computer screen watching fractal patterns unfold already understands the joys of listening to Amber . Autechre is the most deliberately mechanical of techno groups. Nothing the duo creates sounds like the work of humans - there's no hint of fallibility or flesh or free will. Instead, Autechre sets in motion little mathematical nodes of rhythms and notes, and lets them self-replicate and metastasize until they reach a logical stopping point (see, for instance, the 13-beat synth-blip melody that forms the core of "Slip"). These 11 single-word-titled tracks aren't smooth like plastic, as you might imagine, though-there's depth and richness in them. Their contours are those of crystals, canyons, metal ore concealed in rock. "Piezo" is almost entirely tone-bending percussion playing permutations on a two-second pattern, but by two minutes into the track we've already heard dozens of variants and relatives of the basic hollow tapping sound-by the time a wind-tunnel bass synth enters, our ears are trained to hear it as more percussion. Get trapped in the above, plus "Further," "Foil" and "Teartear."
2.'Amber' by John Chedsey from SSMT
Described by some as "difficult" to listen to, Autechre shed much of the quaintness and cute Casio-isms of Incunabula to create a much more dynamic and flush release with Amber. On a whole, the album is nearly a parallel aural vision of the sand cliffs of the cover. The beauty of this music is in its apparent simplicity but upon further inspection there are many various layers of work going on within. The music can be taken as a whole, utilized as a nice backdrop if you are occupied with other activities. However, if you take the time to close your eyes and simply listen, a lot is revealed. Often there are wildly diverse sounds going on. For example, you might have the rhythm track with three different synthesized melodies all working against yet together with one another. Moreover, this is the sort of ambient oriented album that essentially requires an uninterrupted listen as it is not so much centered around song as it is around a sustained mood. Though some of the minimalistic keyboard tones used here might make the album seem sparse at first, Amber's rather impressive depth make this a very recommended listen for those curious about electronic ambient music.
3.'Amber' by Nick Van Dusen from Starkview
The first impression you get when "Amber" starts out is "What planet am I on?". The only word that even comes close to describing the sounds of Autechre is "alien", but somehow the music retains a very terran feel. The names of the tracks are cryptic and made up of a single word each.
"Foil" is a cosmic compilation of blurry beats and eerie humming, making for that alien feel I mentioned. If you listen closely you can hear a low bassy undertone. "Montreal" has a very metallic feel, from the bonging bassline to the clicking pings. A simple beat keeps the confusion low. "Silverside" isn't as heavy as the first two tracks, but takes the ambient path. Beats still come through, but aren't as persistent and creates a very easy-to-groove-to piece. Next, "Slip", almost a flashback to the good old days of synth music. Bouncing tones, drum machines, little twips and chirps, all the standards. Quite a fun song. One of my favorites, "Glitch", consists of vibrating taps and boings, along with a heavy earthy bass. "Piezo" fades in and out with a cross between tribal and techno, which work together VERY nicely. This is my personal favorite track on "Amber". "Nine" is just sort of there... "Further" has an *excellent* rhythm, probably good for dancing, and the little crystal raindrops are lovely. In "Yulquen", the tones rise and fall with a bounce. "Nil" is the other great song on this album. strange warblings and bassy grumblings create a beautiful pattern. Finally, "Teartear" brings it to a close with a pulsing triphop beat and heavily distorted synth. Very deep and a little spooky.
Long tracks and constant flow make for an excellent CD to add to any electronica collection, and everyone I played it for enjoyed it (even the rappers!).
4.'Amber' review by the Christopher Currie from Tentative reviews
Autechre are one of the leading lights of the "intelligent techno" movement which has surfaced in recent years (and which has already divided itself into a series of sub-genres, such that the original term may already be useless). As per the methods favoured by FSOL, Aphex Twin and others, Booth & Brown have crafted a series of albums resonating of both a strong Brian Eno influence and the marketplace of genuinely "alternative" night-haunts. They've issued releases under a variety of names, but the Autechre name has been used for their most prominent material.
This medium differs from traditional "progressive" music in that instrumental virtuosity is generally not required. Aside from this, the two mediums have much in common, as many other critics have already noted -- both are notable for a rejection of the conventional "song" format, a focus on new technology in creating music and, perhaps most importantly, a will to creating music of an extremely adventurous nature.
With fusion jazz no longer operating on full cylinders, this medium has become the most prominent manifestation of "progressive" tendencies in the current market (and, not surprisingly, a backlash has been occurring from the older anti-prog school for some time now, perhaps most notably in negative commentary on recent Orb releases). Some might argue that the genre may be more closely linked to "psychedelia" than "progressive music" per se; to me, though, this strikes me as more a different of semantics than anything else.
In spite of this, reaction to these newer ambient forms from the older progressive community has been muted at best. While some artists (Fripp, Eno, Hillage, some members of Gong, etc) have made guest appearances on the leading albums of the genre, the actual level of interaction between the two communities on a lower level sometimes appears to be next to naught. The "new progressive" bands generally don't tend to display any signs of having been influenced by the new electronica heroes, nor does there seem to be a strong degree of interaction among the two fan bases (though there are exceptions, of course).
The purpose of this review, then, is to assist in contributing to a greater understanding of the potential links between the two communities. Now that "electronica" seems to have gone past its initial creative burst, after all, it may be high time for neighbouring genres to experiment in combining and unifying the forms involved.
Autechre aren't quite as well-known as the other leading figures of the genre, nor are they necessarily as ground-breaking or distinctive. But they do have an obvious talent for crafting memorably ambient rhythms, and the second half of Amber might easily rate with the best works of the field.
The album begins in a comparatively dance-oriented manner, gradually becoming more esoteric as it develops. The first two songs are easily the most "populist", and suffer to some degree from the trappings which this term implies. "Feel", like most of the tracks on the release, features a pulsating tone with percussive additions and "trance" effects; direct similarities to The Orb or Aphex Twin are easily attainable to those curious. A bit of abrasive ambience occurs towards the end, but this track is ultimately held back from true greatness by its fairly basic structure and patterns of repetition. "Montreal" features strong "beat" presence, similar of mid-period New Order, accompanied by assorted ambient waves in the background; I would suppose that this number is pretty much a definition of the "intellectual techno" genre at its most fundamental level. The New Order-ish keys eventually come to dominate the track, with the beat fading out towards the very end. Both of these are very good numbers, but lack the truly great qualities of later sections of the work.
"Silverside" features a distorted vocal exchange overtop of high- treble percussion; ambient tones (similar, from a progressive perspective, to Fripp & Eno's work) match this fairly well, and there seems to be more going on here than in the previous numbers. A case could be made that the repetition of the distorted vocals is a tad on the "gimmicky" side, but this a definite improvement.
"Slip" begins with what might best be described as "retro" keyboard sounds, accompanied by a scrambled signal sample. I'm tempted to believe that the amateurishness of this section was a deliberate effect, perhaps used to cleverly segue into the more developed sections later in the work (the rudimentary drum patterns at the beginning are probably no coincidence either). The track does eventually mutate into a satisfying "trance" number, and merits "cleverness points" for its general structure. Progressive fans might identify that Tony Banks could have easily used these keyboard sounds in his more creative moments, though that could just be the retro qualities shining through.
"Glitch" begins with extremely harsh tones, along with an extremely "tight" drum sound. The development which follows is fairly interesting as well, in the "trance" style of course. I really don't have too much to say about the form of this one, except to note that it was extremely well done (thereby setting the stage for the subsequent numbers).
The track entitled "Piezo" is an adventure, crossing from its dance-oriented beginnings, through a passage of truly demented keyboards and distorted vocals to an extremely moving ambient section (for which the dominant beat of the first section almost entirely disappears). At a length of eight minutes, it has plenty of time to elaborate on this process in clever and enthralling ways. From this point on, the album makes a switch from being "very good" to approaching a "classic" rating.
"Nine" is a brief number -- a summarization of Autechre's general sound, it would seem -- but no less enjoyable. Some might detect a Synergy influence in the introductory tones, but that might perhaps be somewhat of a stretch. What is certain, however, is that this track easily has the most prominent melody of all on the album -- a space- oriented construction oddly similar to "Yours Is No Disgrace" in some ways. An excellent number, despite its abbreviated length.
"Further" may be the best track on the album. Beginning with keys akin to dripping water and clockwork percussion, the track shifts between themes at a higher level of internal complexity than elsewhere on the release -- movements from ambience to rhythm to abrasiveness are quite common here. The ambient section which closes the track seems highly appropriate in context as well.
"Yulquen" is an effective number in its starkness, lacking the strong "beat" presence that marks the other tracks on the release. The number depends almost entirely on shifts in tone for its development, and does this quite well.
Perhaps not surprisingly, this then leads to "Nil", which turns the rhythmic orientation to the foreground. With a strong melodic presence, a trance-invoking structure and a "stop and start" approach to the rest of the track, this is a highly impressive work as well. The pulsating tone at the end of the work has a strongly Frippian presence about it, it's worth noting.
And, finally, we have "Teartear". Beginning with a tone similar to that on Eno's Apollo album, a martial beat soon joins the general process. More Banks-esque keyboard sounds appear, and a lead ambient melody emerges. After the beat ceases in mid-track, a surprisingly "proggy" keyboard section can distinctly be heard; the beats them return over this at a rather faster speed. This number seems an appropriate conclusion to the work in its combination of action and reflection.
This album will probably not appeal to those whose interests in progressive music are limited to studies of scale variations and bombastic effects, but those interested in exploring newer manifestations of the adventurous "spirit" that drove the original progressive groups might find quite a bit to work with here. Recommended as such.