A love letter 2 AFX

Life

RDJ releases first new music in thirteen years! Yeah, except this, true to form for Cornwall’s favourite ginger, lying, tank-driving ‘n blimp-flying son, is not quite the whole truth. As wiser heads writing excellent first-listen pieces over at FACT magazine and the Quietus have pointed out, the man known most famously under the moniker Aphex Twin has, in a sense, never been away. Throughout the last decade he has been steadily producing techno 12’’ records under other aliases. That’s all out there if you want it. Not as many people listened, probably because it wasn’t Aphex.

This reviewer was a late-comer to all things Richard D. James. I spent the better part of teenagerhood listening to indie rock, sorry, a habit that sticks, and for all my sins two formative encounters with Aphex Twin stand out:

1) I exchanged mixtapes (made on rewritable CDs, this was 2009) with a boy in my class who had much better, or at least far broader, taste than I had at the time. He had on it two songs from 2001’s Drukqs, ‘Omgyjya-Switch 7’ and ‘Cock/ver10’. I was uncomfortable. Not only was Aphex apparently naming his tracks by swinging his cock (ver10) against the keyboard, but there was such a wilful, playful sense of abandon that extended to the music. This was an artist who knew what he was doing, trying to get inside your head, basically, and going at it harder and doing it straight better than anything I had yet heard on my early voyages on the seas of electronica.

2) Sometime later, staying up flicking channels, I came across the video for ‘Windowlicker’. Hilarious, classic and deeply creepy in retrospect: definitely only one of those things at the time.

So, without further ado: COME ON U CUNT, LET’S HAVE SOME APHEX ACID.

We turn to 2014’s Syro. RDJ’s still naming tracks as he did on his last release, and after probably the most high profile album role out of the year (unless you count U2 artificially inseminating your iPhone), we get ‘minipops67  [120.2][source field mix]’. I first heard this a while ago on Drownedinsound, circulated then amongst nerds as the ‘Manchester track’, but it’s great to hear a studio version. Shit remains strong. To my ears at least it is reminiscent of ‘Windowlicker’. Aphex’s rhythmic, almost danceable, warpy R n’B touch that made that single such a hit, and 1992’s Selected Ambient Works: Volume 1 such a constant joy, is still around. ‘minipops67’, by Aphex standards, is definitely what you might call ‘fun’. Love the way the vocals come in at the end and the whole thing effortlessly changes pace.

To paraphrase what I’m generally trying to say across this piece: the whole record is great, well done Richard! I’ve just time enough to pick out a few more aspects of it that grabbed on initial listens. Second track XMAS_EVET10 [120][thanaton3 mix] goes nicely after the first, there’s a similar squelch to the bassy noise, and it moves through similar moods at a similar BPM. My favourite Aphex jam is ‘Alberto Balsam’. I’m a sucker for that softly repeating ascending-descending melody that he perfected in the ‘90s, and the first two tracks of Syro constitute Aphex comforting you, telling you that it’s OK: your daddy’s running the analogue bubblebath again.

The middle parts of the album, as the BPMs go up, likely kick the hardest. There’s such a strutting drum machine-led intro to ‘produk 29 [101]’, and track four, ‘4 bit 9d api+e+6 [126.26]’, elevates the album to its highest point yet. As Syro goes on we begin to lose the bassy squelch in favour of more bite, more beat-driven stuff. It was hard to shake the feeling that Aphex was waking up as the album went on, kind of like a gnarly alarm clock. It’s safe to say old fans and new will find a lot to like here. Track six, ‘CIRCLONT6A [141.98][syrobonkus mix]’, is, to these ears, the best thing on the record, and also what might be the most recognizably NEW thing in the context of the Aphex Twin catalogue. It blends what I might tentatively call the characteristic Syro sound with an even harder edge, it starts whirring: the ending is immense and gave me such a rush to listen to first time around. It just goes faster and faster and I was floored.

Thank you thank you thank you! Listen to the album! It’s fun, a bit long maybe, but I SURE LIKE IT A LOT.

5/5

 

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