“How odd I can have all this inside me and to you it’s just words” ~ David Foster Wallace
I found it quite fitting that Autechre released SIGN during what is hopefully the latter half of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Amidst a flurry of panic, hurried data, and incompetent decision making worldwide, it was nice to find a pocket of very emotional electronic music buried beneath the soot – a dignified sign of life pushing against the harsh grain of emotional aridity.
“Unprecedented times” is the 2020 buzzword for me. The next time I hear it will be the 10,000th. This is the reactionary prompt from the regularly uncaring, the regulated drop of empathy in our emotional coffee, and the sobering reminder that, to many, sympathy is no more than a chore when things are good and no less than an obligation during crises. Corporations will bend and bow to the trendiest movements, but never truly align themselves. Within the deeply encoded high level speech is the unbreaking precedence that they only care because they have to, and for as long as they need to. As the body counts continue to pile up it has become increasingly clear that nothing lies beyond the thin veneer of optimistic vomit spewed daily by our employers and elected officials. If we want answers, we must find them; if we want love, we must give it; if we want light, we must seek it. Beneath the furor, I hold hope that many of us continue to look for the light in the emotional pockets that reveal themselves to us.
SIGN was one of the pockets that revealed itself to me in the last year. On previous albums, I’ve been unable to penetrate the genre-defying and generally idiosyncratic nature of their music, which has often struck me as alienating, robotic, and lifeless. SIGN is much more revealing, with a textured benevolence tucked gently beneath the mechanistic chaos that coats its surface, and marks the first time I’ve been able to unravel the beauty within. With so many releases in the bag and so many listens under my belt, why SIGN? And why now?
My connection to this album extends far beyond the metaphysical, and is something I can only broadly define by a deep examination of the metaphorical. I have been told on more that one occasion that I am robotic. Unfortunately for me, not robotic in the stoic, impenetrable sense, but rather in a programmed, emotionless state where sensory responses are pre-fetched and automated, and everything else just feels cold and phlegmatic. That broad stroke judgment feels harshly unjust as I know how inwardly emotional I am even if there is a misalignment between what is felt and what is outwardly expressed.
It’s meta to assume that one’s outwardly cold presence hides an inner beauty, and I also do not want to assume the role of a rose whose delicate beauty is protected by layers of thorns. Still, I feel as if Autechre has brought something out from within me that has masqueraded itself for several years now. I have dug up something hidden deep within myself, and I will pay careful attention to where that leads me.