Autechre – Exai
Eleven albums deep into a career that reached new heights of expressiveness with 2010's emotionally-charged Oversteps LP (reviewed here), Exai finds Booth and Brown bringing their A-game once more – this time in the form of a near-flawless two-hour set that aims as much for the body as it does the heart or the head.
In terms of pure sonics, Exai is monstrous – definitively Autechre's most balanced and dynamic sounding album thus far; a fiendishly satisfying blend of earth-shaking bass, lush synthesis and bullish hardware-driven beats that flaunts the duo's love for old-school hip-hop more openly than anything they've put out in the last decade.
More than just a sterile production masterclass, this music feels aggressively energised; youthful, even – in a way that can't be explained easily. Tracks like vekoS and recks on showcase spunk and swagger in the most straightforward fashion, but even at its most oblique, Exai fizzes and pops with a sense of excitement that betrays its creators' enthusiasm.
Not that we'd want to give the impression that Exai is a straight-up party record, you understand. This is late-period Autechre, after all, and the duo's fearless exploratory tendencies are still in full effect. nodezsh manages to conjure an atmosphere of disarming tenderness from epileptic hats, gunshot snares and imperial synths before morphing into a paranoid, labyrinthine dreamspace.
It's an example of Autechre's remarkable knack for the uncanny; an ability to open up repeating wormholes between discrete musical phrases which can trick the listener into feeling as if they've been trying to navigate their way out of the same track for years. It may sound like a hellish conceit to some, but there are few other artists capable of cultivating such a visceral sense of interactivity with their audience.
Things get seriously lairy with spl9 – a pulverising brute of a track that finds sadistic shards of non-melody tearing through the mix like hot shrapnel – it's also the closest the duo come to replicating the kind of thuggish, heads-down bangers they were rinsing on the Oversteps tour.
Elsewhere, cuts like bladelores and cloudline explore more ambient terrain; the latter's glitching drones coaxing the listener into a state of hypnagogic vulnerability before a team of insistent, stuttering kicks work diligently to tug what remains of one's consciousness out-of-body.
It all ends with YJY UX, an epic closer in the vein of Drane2, and an appropriately beatific coda for such an exhausting, exhilarating set. Considered in totality, Exai can be conceptualised as the sound of a group reconnecting with the energy and the influences that drove them to start making music in the first place – a thrilling renewal that leaves them perfectly poised for whatever leap they may choose to make next.