Published Oct 20, 2020Even as a die-hard fan, listening to an Autechre album can sometimes be a daunting task. You have to be prepared to witness a shapeshifting vessel assemble, launch into hyper-speed with a refractory new turbine engine, land on some mechanical planet, and then have its inner workings disseminated — turns out it's human after all. This all sounds like a feature film, and some previous Autechre records clock in at about the same length: Exai is 120 minutes, the 5 parts of elseq total over four hours, and those NTS Sessions from 2018 are the equivalent of a full work shift.
So, it's not too much of stretch to assume that their latest undertaking would be something gargantuan, but it's not at all. SIGN has a reasonable 11 tracks, all of which are a fairly standard length (each around six minutes). In terms of sonics, they've opened things up a bit too. There isn't as much need to sift through the floating detritus of rusty girders and frayed wires to reach that bright shining core. Don't get us wrong, we love the detritus — it's what makes Autechre the incredible act that they are — but it can sometimes be a mental undertaking to dismantle tracks that are so dense and complex.
Conversely, SIGN is mostly stripped back, and kind of beautiful at times. "gr4" is the most positive Autechre have sounded in years, the ebb and flow of "psin AM" is downright hypnotic, and "esc desc" might actually tug at your heart strings. It seems oxymoronic to place the word 'accessible' anywhere near Autechre, but SIGN could almost be considered breezy in terms of the duo's back catalogue. It's certainly their version of accessible, at the very least.
While Autechre have largely jettisoned the beats on SIGN, they haven't gone fully ambient either. "au14" bubbles with jittery percussion, which is interrupted by sharp shots of laser sounds. "si00" also bubbles, but the percussion is more of a consistent pulse that slowly gains speed throughout.
For seasoned fans looking for their next fix of boundary-pushing explorations, this will likely seem a tad pedestrian, but SIGN is still an incredible piece of work, even if it's not bending the rules of music production into infinity. Plus, it might allow some new listeners to finally penetrate Autechre's tungsten outer shell, and that's nothing to turn your nose up at. (Warp)