The best thing about the return of Aphex Twin is that he never really left. The alias of British producer Richard D. James, Aphex Twin loomed over the electronic music scene throughout the 1990s like a mysterious and manic forefather. He did everything other DJs didn’t: fused a frenetic blend of pop and electronic music with his famous “Windowlicker,” made his (often terrifying and distorted) face front and center, and crafted a long-lasting mythos in the process. Monday saw the release of Syro, his first album under the Aphex Twin moniker since 2001’s Drukqs. In the 13 years since, he has released a number of works as AFX, The Tuss, and Caustic Window – the latter funded through an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign. Each of these works is extremely enjoyable, interesting, and worthy of praise. But an Aphex Twin release is like nothing else, which made the sighting of a chartreuse Aphex blimp in August of this year so tantalizing.
Where Drukqs saw the apex of Aphex in all his bombastic complexity, Syro is intimate, familiar, and subdued. This shows in the album itself, as well as the publicity surrounding the release. He has given more interviews and said more about his music and personal life than I have ever read. Even the packaging is thoughtful: production and promotion costs are laid bare, and every single instrument and piece of equipment used on the album are listed. The absence of his face, especially after such a long break, is a smart choice. He could have relied on his infamous visage to snap public consciousness to attention, but he allows Syro to speak for itself.
This transparency is the most surprising thing about the album. This translates to the music as well, an intentional move for James. He said Syro is composed of his most accessible pieces recorded over the last seven years. The fact that any of these tracks could’ve easily fit into his 1990s catalogue sends one important message: his music stands the test of time. Why temper with brilliance? “PAPAT4 ” (pineal mix)” and “minipops 67 [120.2]” coast along on bridge-chorus structures that, while complex and nowhere near mainstream pop, make for easy listening. The track “produk 29 ” has some of the most intelligible vocals I’ve ever heard in an Aphex Twin song, and James also samples himself, his wife, parents, and two children across the album. The distorted vocal interlude “fz pseudotimestretch+e+3 [138.85]” is a refreshing deviation from the rest of the album, a throwback to his Analord releases. His focus, eclecticism, and technical mastery make up for the lack of cheeky, self-aware humor ever-present during his rise to popularity in the 90s.
The duality of James’s publicity-averse personality and mythological musical heroism are a testament to his blend of self-deprecation and extreme dedication to his craft–and the loyalty of his ever-growing fan base. He has more than hinted at hundreds of tracks hidden away, as well as newfound energy that could translate into more releases in the near future. I am eager to see what’s in store for excited fans like myself. Regardless, Syro stands alone as a carefully executed and timeless release by one of music’s greatest talents. It will more than fill the gap between now and his next release.
Favourite tracks: “minipops 67 [120.2]”, “XMAS_EVET10 ”,”produk 29 ”, “s950tx16wasr10 [163.97]” (earth portal mix)
All media courtesy of Warp Records
Tags: Aphex Twin