"SIGN is a dramatic discovery of all things light."
It was with a degree of trepidation that I fired up ‘SIGN‘ – the latest album from Autechre, and first of a duology of releases – having been lured in with the premise of “their most melodic album in years” in the past. Flick it on and, as the Gantz Graf-esque digital mangle that spins out from the start of ‘M4 Lema‘ plays, you will quickly realise that you’re not in ‘Incunabula‘ waters here, and more in the realm of ‘LP5‘.
Dispel any notions of COVID lockdown softening the approach of the duo – the pair have been working in isolation since 2018, firing code and works in progress from their individual studios to each other – this feels like an intentional counterpoint to their previous works. However, this is a distinct tangent to a distinctly angular path that became very evident as “the direction” around the time of 2005’s ‘untitled‘.
This carried through to their last album, which radio station NTS specially commissioned. An eight hour epic, a big bang exploration of their methodology to date through space and rhythmic texture. Tracks were presented like puzzles to solve, with rhythms apparently working at odds at different tempos, only to be solved by a weighty kick or metronomic click that locks everything to place in a grand “aha!” moment. This translated into a study in monochrome, a story told through the pixilation and shadow of infra-red CCTV.
However, ‘SIGN‘ is a dramatic discovery of all things light. The synths on show have – dare I say it – a definite hint of the eighties about them. For example, the bassline on ‘esc desc‘ sits somewhere between Depeche Mode ‘Behind The Wheel‘ and ‘Never Let Me Down Again‘ in terms of mood and structure, while brassy, glassy tones permeate through tracks like ‘F7‘, ‘th red a‘ and ‘gr4‘.
‘SIGN‘ is still very much music for introverts. There are grooves to climb inside and percentages to defocus to, as you attempt to anticipate which 17 notes will make up the next chord on your loop through the pattern, whether one note will be muffled, dragged through a wringer or stretched through one of the intimidating reverbs that only Autechre seem to have access to.
Yet accessibility is also word that come to mind, with ‘psin AM’ absolutely a ‘Everything You Do Is A Balloon‘ moment here. Rhythm is never intimidating, tumbling yet always anchored and urgent – ‘si00‘ and ‘au14‘ throw right back to the sort of material that spun Radiohead away from stadium anthems post ‘OK Computer‘.
Autechre are peerless, an act that is nigh on impossible to benchmark, yet it is evident that there is something special about ‘SIGN‘. Diverse and enthralling, it grows and enraptures over repeat listens. Always on headphones, always at night.
‘SIGN’ is out now via Warp Records. Order a copy from Bandcamp.
1. M4 Lema
4. esc desc
6. Metaz form8
7. sch.mefd 2
9. th red a
10. psin AM
11. r cazt