While Autechre has certainly never been known for their accessibility, the duo has put out some especially challenging work over the last ten years. Three releases in particular, which were difficult yet rewarding in their own respects: 2001's insanely impenetrable Confield, the cold, robotic, and extremely abrasive Untilted from 2005, and the wildly disjointed Quaristice, released in 2008. Now on Oversteps, their tenth album, producers Rob Brown and Sean Booth aren't so much reverting as taking a softer approach. Never a group to stay in one place for long, Oversteps is still rife with experimentation, but it's taken from a much more laid back perspective, and the result is a slightly more digestible Autechre record.
The overall mood is key on Oversteps; the tracks rely heavily on atmospherics, and the little intricacies aren't really noticed until the ambiance is taken in, though surprisingly this doesn't take long at all. From the moment opener r ess slinks into ilanders, the sound for the entire album is laid out, and it's just a matter of immersing oneself. Songs like Treale and qplay have actual solid beats, something that has appeared haphazardly at best in Autechre's recent work. Even where the beats are semi-present or fractured entirely, there's still some prevailing melody that, no matter how disjointed, is still warm and alluring enough to follow. Obviously, immediacy was never one of Autechre's top goals, but at times Oversteps feels about as immediate as the duo can get. known(1) is among the catchiest things Brown and Booth have ever put together, and it still keeps the sharp moodiness and tremendous subtleties that drive the record in tact.
While there are quite a few moments that recall earlier Autechre, nothing ever comes across as a rehash. os veix3 is at least as haunting and eerie as anything to be found on Tri Repetae, but smoothly transitions into the more Draft 7.30 recalling O=0. The album's flow is another superb aspect; each song is strong enough to stand out on its own, but they morph into each other beautifully. d-sho qub ends with highly unsettling choirs recalling the Monolith in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and when the clanging st epreo interrupts, it somehow feels like a natural extension. Oversteps closes out with Yuop, consisting of a simple melody distorting further and further as wave after wave of sound collides into it. It climaxes at the halfway point, but the latter half still commands, sounding almost electrified as it dies away.
It's remarkable that after twenty years, Autechre is still coming up with different, inventive ways to push themselves. While Oversteps is nowhere near as intense as numerous other areas in the band's discography, this cohesive body of songs is an interesting and quite welcome polar opposite to Quaristice. At times it references other points in Autechre's career, but there's still a unity among the tracks that keeps them from sounding interchangeable with them. There's also the strange accessibility (which for Autechre isn't much, but accessibility nonetheless) that Oversteps carries with it, giving it all the more charm. It's not their best album, but it just might be their easiest to enjoy.