It’s easier to appreciate and respect Autechre’s music — much like one might appreciate the elegant complexity of a mathematical equation or computer program — than it is to find it beautiful or emotionally moving in any traditional sense. But the duo’s latest album, SIGN, contains moments of subtle, understated beauty that feel quite unlike their previous output.
Take, for example, “Metaz form8,” the album’s centerpiece, and arguably its most somber moment. The song is still, at its core, the sort of strange, otherworldly electronic soundscape that we’ve come to expect from Sean Booth and Robert Brown’s arsenal of synths, samplers, and software. But out from the distorted squelches and swirling drones emerge slight, shimmering chords imbued with a melancholy that brings to mind, of all things, the wistful scores of Joe Hisaishi, the famed composer best known for his long-running partnership with Hayao Miyazaki.
So yes, I imagine a Studio Ghibli movie while listening to “Metaz form8,” albeit one set in an acid rain-enshrouded cityscape or the deepest, darkest reaches of the cosmic abyss rather than, say, the picturesque Japanese countryside or a charming European seaside town. In any case, I find “Metaz form8” beguiling and surprisingly emotional — which is something I never thought I’d say about Autechre’s music. Compelling, cerebral, fascinating, mind-blowing, sure… but never beguiling or emotional. Not until now.