There was a time I wouldn't have given an act like Autechre the time of day. I gave the duo's last LP, Oversteps, a cursory listen 3 years ago and, well, it did nothing for me. I didn't enjoy it; I couldn't, because I simply didn't get it. That's precisely why I stepped up to review Exai (which, for those of you who haven't been keeping up, is Rob Brown and Sean Booth's 11th album together - see what they did with the Roman numerals?); I figured my tastes had changed enough in the interim to not be completely put off by the idea of reviewing a wildly experimental, 17-track, 2-hour album. As it turns out, Exai is right up there as one of my favourite albums of the year at the moment, and no matter what happens in the next 10 months or so, I know I'll always come back to it, because it's a fascinating body of work that gradually reveals itself over time, and even if you have a hard time remembering the track titles (the majority of which are seemingly unpronounceable), the tracks themselves will eventually stick with you if you give them time.

'Fleure' opens the album with an oddly menacing glitchy beat, before an ominous synth line creeps in, setting the tone for the album in an unsettling, industrial manner that points to it being a difficult listen, even by the duo's usual standards, but any worries about Exai being insular and amelodic should be laid to rest by mid-way through the album's second track, the 10-minute 'irlite (get 0)' - the duo certainly have some fascinating ideas about melody, and ideas that fail to grab the listener on initial listens sink their hooks in before too long. 'vekoS' has something approaching a conventional chord progression, clearly discernible beneath the clattering drums and stuttering rhythms, and the combination of all this makes it sound oddly danceable. For a band with a reputation for creating angular, complex patchworks of sound, some of the material on their new record sounds surprisingly straightforward, with tracks like the synth-driven and surprisingly accessible 'jateevee C' sounding like the duo have thrown off the shackles of expectation and made a warped electronic pop song.

Brown and Booth are also able to create atmospheric moments like the fragmented-sounding 'tuinorizn', which features scant melody and places emphasis on complex beats. 'bladelores' finishes off disc one and does so in style, its ponderous-looking 12-minute running time flying by, starting off small with a simple beat, and gradually growing in stature before its main melody line fades away, returning later on to do battle with an ambient wash of sound. These two sides of Autechre compliment each other extremely well, and as the track begins its long, slow disintegration, the listener is finally allowed time to reflect on a varied disc that sometimes proves impossible to pin down, just the way its creators would want. They've never been ones to pigeonhole themselves, and though their style is broadly described as IDM, this album is in much more experimental territory than such a tag might suggest.

At this point, as '1 1 is' whirrs into life, there's still an hour to go, but Exai is packed with enough thrills and excitement that making the full 2-hour journey never seems like a chore. Indeed, in relative terms, the second disc is more accessible than the first, even if, at times, it sounds much more intense. The jaw-dropping 'spl9' is probably the darkest-sounding moment on the album, but it comes equipped with an excellent hook. It gives way to the remarkably chilled-sounding 'cloudline', whose 10 minutes once again don't feel like a stretch, the tight rhythms giving the track an almost hip-hop feel. As the album starts to wind down, the duo decide to go out with a bang, treating us to one of Exai's most powerful moments in the form of the exquisite 'recks on', before 'YJY UX' slouches toward the finish line, and the album coming to a close in a similar way to how it started, the electronic soundscape calm, but with tension bubbling just beneath the surface. This album is truly epic, both in length and scope, best experienced as a whole. It's also a great place to start for any who may have been intimidate by Autechre in the past. Speaking from experience, of course. Any electronic music fan needs to get acquainted with this - it's absolutely essential.