The first time that I saw the name of this newest release by Autechre, I honestly misread the name as "Cornfield." Due partially to my excitement of actually hearing a new album by them, and partially by the fact that I live in a place where there is a damn lot of corn. For some reason, in those few seconds of time, that mis-read title even made sense to me. Like a cornfield, the group mixes an almost robotic precision (the endless rows) with rather unexpected elements (undulating land and uneven spots) to create something that is often fullfilling and sometimes quite trying. After I read the title again, though, I chuckled out loud and realized that the title was yet another entry in the long line of made-up words for the group.
Still, that initial mis-reading stuck in my head, and since that time I've still been unable to shake it. I thought about how Autechre's music has become so damn machine-like that there's no way it could even relate to something so organic as farming, yet as I kept listening to this latest release, I kept finding similarities. I guess I'll blame it on growing up in the heartland.
The main thing I kept coming back to is my memory of actually riding in a combine and what it was like. There I was, sitting inside a noisy beast of a machine, something so huge that it consumes 30 feet of plants every second, strips the corn off the cob, and chucks everything out on the ground. When you look out in front of you, rows seem to stretch out forever, and when you look behind, the trail that you're leaving seems the same way. You look to one side and depending on how long you've been going, you either feel like you've been working for an eternity, or like you've done nothing at all. It's a strange thing, and although I wasn't even driving the thing, there was something almost mechanical in the thought process behind it all.
You may be wondering what my point is by saying all of the above, but this new release by Autechre is like a mixture of the sounds you'd heard if you could somehow attach a microphone to an individual piece of corn as it's moving through a combine with the sounds you hear while everything is being sucked through. Sometimes, the album is chaos with little bits of things for your ears to latch onto, while at other times they create sounds for your ears to latch onto while bits of chaos rumble in and threaten to take over. It's their most difficult album to listen to, but I've still found myself playing it a lot.
Part of that reason is no doubt due to the fact that the duo of Rob Brown and Sean Booth create some of the most staggering textural sounds out there. The release opens up with "VI Scose Poise" and after two minutes of little chime sounds mixed in with odd squleches, a four-note melody creeps into the mix and morphs slightly, but repeats throughout the rest of the track. It's like a completely deconstructed version of something you'd maybe expect from them, and only continues with the hugely thumping second track of "Cfern" (which at least has a rumbling beat to keep things in line). They go a bit berzerk again on the third track "Pen Expers," with a sliding beat that rumbles and stutters out of control while assembly-line sounds sputter and spit out around it. There's no real rhythm or reason to it, and it gives your head quite a workout trying to fit some pattern to it all.
Having said all of the above, I don't mean to say that this album is so out of left-field that it doesn't sound like anything the group has ever done before. In fact, it's a fairly logical progression from both their EP7 release and the recent Peel Session 2. It's kind of a mess in places (like the frantic, flatulent ending of the final track "Lentic Catachresis"). If you're a fan of the group, you're going to buy this anyway, but if you've never heard the group before, I'd recommend probably starting off with one of their earlier, more accessible releases. Also, please dismiss all my silly references to corn above, as it may be the result of listening to this release.