The Last Word in Unabridged
Aural assaults these days can come in all different shapes and sizes. For their eleventh album, the appropriately titled Exai—XI, for those keen on roman numerals—veteran electronic noisemakers Autechre (Sean Booth and Rob Brown) attempt to push the limits of both shape and size. However, though this is clearly an ambitious collection of 17 songs, ambitious efforts don’t necessarily equate with genuine quality. To be fair, though, Exai is an album that demands repeated listens. The only problem is that a repeated listen for the casual listener is two hours out of their precious life. Despite the fact there are some decent themes and melodies at play here, one can’t truly blame those hesitant to stick around for the whole two hours.
The problem is, as is often for albums so behemoth as Exai, there is so much to take in that much of it does not stick. For example, “irlite (get o)” has some interesting mood-makings that incorporate different synth sounds intertwining and petering out around each other from the middle to the ends of its 10-minute run time, but the first couple minutes are very interesting—or at least so in terms of the rest of the album to inspire you to let the song build.
Though a simple cry of “Editing!” might have served as a quick-fix to some of the album’s overly extended playtimes, more care could have been placed into arranging these tracks in an order more conducive to cohesion. There’s a whole host of interesting sounds across the album, but to the listener’s ear, it almost comes across as, “Here’s this sound, and now this one, and then this one will follow that one.” Then, there are tracks like “Flep,” which is built around the clang and buzz of profuse electronic percussion. Fine for an extended interlude in another track, but as a standalone, and at six minutes to boot, it feels like a ripe candidate for complete excision.
After 10 proper albums and a host of long-ish EPs, though, it is clear Autechre are no amateur electronic duo. A track like “spl9” is a ferocious and well-built blaster than pounds away at the listener. The main thrust of opener “Fluere” is excellent, as well, as the screeches ping-pong around the soundscape as if inside the Large Hadron Collider—but the track also seems to provide much of the palette from which many of the other tracks take liberally later on.
Though one cannot go so far as to say each repeated listen to Exai will offer new enjoyments or leave you with any memories of the experience at all, it is an album admirable in its exhaustive nature and staunch in its purpose. One may not be able to hum any single minute of music showcased on the album, but the pure visceral impact of the sounds suggest that somewhere in your system, the first minute of “T ess xi” might have just found a new home, completely undetected to you.