The new Autechre album, Oversteps, is beautiful in at least two ways. Sometimes it has a crisp, fresh feel, like - I don't know, what's a suitable journalistic simile? - like snowmelt trickling across the pebbled bed of a mountain stream in mid-winter, on a Saturday, about six a.m. At other times the beauty is sublime, like cresting a hillock to find nothing but a vertical chalkface and then rocks and spray and maybe a flock of some kind of carrion-eating seabirds circling expectantly. Facetious similes aside, the fact remains: Oversteps is beautiful.
I mock musical journalese, yet it is difficult to write about Ae's wordless, abstract, stylistically hermetic music. Most critics end up writing a lot of guff about factories and robots and "don't try dancing to this!" because we all know dancing is the only thing that doof doof crap is for. I'm being a lot more cynical than I set out to be. Sorry. But Oversteps is beautiful, and apparently there is no other way of saying that than to say it, and even then it is meaningless because it doesn't relate to anything. Beautiful how? Beautiful like... well, we've been down this deer-and-seabird-strewn path before.
The best, and probably only, thing to do is to just listen. Either it gets you in the guts or it doesn't. I have friends who are put off instrumental electronic music by the perceived lack of a sentient presence: to them it's just "computers talking". I don't believe this is true, but then I am not sure that I care. There is no sentience behind thunder, or a branch falling, or a fire crackling: the human ear and nerves and brain still conspire to be affected by these sounds. The human touch is great, fine, wonderful, but sometimes I want pure sound. I want the beauty of oblivion.