It would be deathlessly simplistic to say that Autechre make dance music, like saying that Vivendi sells compact discs. While it’s true that the English duo’s sound is coincidentally rhythmic, it’d be more appropriate to hail them as the true Sound of the City. Just as 1995’s Tri Repetae perfectly and pristinely captured the paranoid spirit of rapidly gentrifying urban areas—the soundtrack of homeless people pushed east, sodium streetlights casting an aura over rain-slick streets, and a deserted series of districts devoted part-time to factory-made toys, candy, and machine parts—their ninth and latest album, Quaristice, finely etches a glass metropolis with acid both nitric and hallucinogenic.
Naturally, Messrs. Rob Brown and Sean Booth present their usual inscrutable track titles and occasional slabs of 4/4 ambience: the death-threat game-show vibe of “Lo,” the galactic fuck-music synth eddies of “Paralel Suns” and, finally, “Rale,” a song with all the brooding mental acuity of a boom-box with dropsy. “Fol3” drags the rhythms backwards through a corduroy hedge—you can feel yourself waiting for the noddable beat to kick in—but Autechre don’t let the listener off the hook that easily, and the net effect is that of watching one’s dad jamming in the car to a song to which he only knows about a third of the lyrics. Quaristice demands to be heard, but stubbornly refuses to be the soundtrack of your life. That’s art, and perhaps it’s only pegged as “difficult” because it won’t sing along with you; neither will the Chrysler Building, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.