The music of Manchester, England's Autechre -- Sean Booth and Rob Brown -- can, indeed, veer dangerously close to difficult listening. But on the group's fantastic new CD, Draft 7.30, the project seems to have come in from the cold, offering a remarkably warm fusion of the human and the machine. As with all of Autechre's output, the sounds defy easy description, since the duo's compositions function neither like songs nor like traditional dance tracks. The steely pings and plangent synthesizer tones may be familiar to electronica listeners, but the way Booth and Brown apply the material is unique. Accelerating clicks stutter with the cadence of dropped ping-pong balls; demure keyboard tones flash up and then retract like ferns in time-lapse photography. Everything feels hesitant, as though the sounds were deciding whether it's safe to emerge from hiding.
Ironically, while Autechre's designs are as advanced as ever, the duo makes concessions to actual grooves for once. The steady throb of "Tapr" is the closest the group has come in years to making straight techno, even if the funk is nearly buried in an avalanche of static. "IV VV IV VV VIII" hitchhikes on the double-time pattern of drum and bass, enjoying the speed of the vehicle without having to be the same beast. Most surprisingly, "6IE.CR" uses hip-hop beats, something of an anomaly for an act that prefers coding to crate-digging.
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Unlike almost everything passing itself off as experimental music today, Draft 7.30 isn't just a collection of outlandish sounds or bumpin' tracks. It's an exhilarating essay on the beauty of form itself, balancing chaos with control and weighing moments of rupture with the rapture of sonic immersion.