It probably goes without saying that the release of each Autechre album is a listening event for me and many like-minded music nerds, but for Oversteps this is more true than it otherwise might be after the London gig in support of Quaristice (one of the best musical experiences of my life), and all the variants on that album, which sat very well with me. It’s definitely one of my favourite Autechre albums, if not top of the list (controversial, I know).
Oversteps feels like a logical follow-up to Quaristice. It sounds very Nord heavy to my ears, as was Quaristice, but you can also hear the digital elements that they’ve reintroduced here. If I had to sum up the production in a word, it would be “crunchy”. You first notice this on the second track, ilanders. A lot of sounds decay or release in to bit reduction, which gives them an explosive sound and is quite disorienting over the first few listens. This is a part of a sound which normally creates ambience rather than demanding our continued attention. By creating in this typically-taken-for-granted space, they define a really unusual, demanding acoustic space. I certainly wouldn’t be averse to hearing other people exploit this approach. It’s probably strange to focus on the production so early in my comments, but it really is definitive of the album. It’s an essential part of what they’ve created.
I prefer the second half of the album, or basically everything from track 7 forward. I think the first half establishes the mood/palette well and holds the whole thing together as an album, but the individual tracks don’t do as much for me in isolation. Put another way, I think the first six tracks set out the boundaries of the album and the rest of it is the identity, if that makes any sense. Somehow I don’t have a great deal to say about those first tracks, so forgive me if I focus on the stuff that I find most compelling. If you’re interested to read more about that part of the album, my friend Kent focused on it in his review.
My favourite track is Treale. This feels like the full realisation of the Oversteps sound to me: heavily composed but rooted in repetition. Competing melodies jostle for focus while politely sliding out of the way when they’ve said their bit. The production is amazing. The resonance on the edge of one of the main melodies feels like a razor through the brain. This happily carries along for just under four minutes when it suddenly comes together as a single melody across five or six instruments. This sneaks up for a couple of repeats before taking a completely sensical but unexpected turn. This all sounds very much like Autechre and no one else. It’s everything I like about their music and precisely what I look for in music more generally.
The eighth track, os_veix3, sounds like Flutter part II to me. Again, this track is pure Autechre idiosynchracy, which leads nicely in to O0, which is distilled Autechre melody left to its own devices.
I think it would be a better album without track 10, d-sho_qub. It starts out with a distressingly happy tone. I’ve tried very hard to like this track and I just don’t. It completely interrupts what is the best part of the album for me. The beat is cool (huge) and they do some wicked effects fuckery around it, but that melody ruins it for me. That said, it wouldn’t be an Autechre album if you weren’t thwarted in a few places. Also, the end of the track with the crazy 2001 voices (Jacob Arnold beat me to this description) is sweet. It really leads on to the end of the album well, but that first four minutes of it is a blemish.
If d-sho_qub was Autechre at their most twee and melodically indulgent, then the 11th track, st_epreo is them at their most rhythmic. It definitely brings things back on track, and showcases their production skills more than any other track on the album.
If it weren’t already obvious, the melodies can’t be easily categorised. The 12th track, redfall starts out sounding like classic Plaid, but with an utterly immense resonant reverb beast that pops in and out of the mix on the periphery of what can be considered melody. On the Warp cousins tip, the fifth track, qplay, starts off sounding a lot like Boards of Canada. They’ve definitely explored melodically on this album more than on any of their earlier releases.
From the tail end of the twelfth track through the end we’re in beatless territory again. There’s a whole lotta big melody. In these tracks you can hear how they’re often using release or reverb where others might use pads. This is done throughout the album but is most noticeable at the end. It’s an unusual approach that works very well in this case.
In short, as an album it’s pure win. As Jacob Arnold said in the link above, it’s worth spending a month of your life listening to this album and not much else. It’s fantastically rewarding. Given that there’s only the one track that I wish I could remove this is a probable album of the year. Now on to that 12 hour radio show!