2014 could be considered to have been fairly lacklustre for electronic music, thus far. Yes, we’ve had the odd song or release that has allowed the public to hold its collective breath, but there hasn’t been a Settle or an Until the Quiet Comes just yet. Having said that, Aphex Twin has resurfaced and so, it could be expected that electronic music of 2014 has been saved.
Since the early ‘90s, Aphex Twin (or Richard James to his friends) has been at the forefront of weird electronic music. He released his debut; Selected Ambient Works 85-92 in 1992 and with it came huge critical acclaim. Since then, James has released album after album which has allowed him to be considered one of the most prevalent innovators in electronic music. Since 2001’s Druqks, his output (under the Aphex Twin moniker) has, pretty much, come to a stand-still. This brings us to 2014 and the point at which a blimp was spotted featuring the unmistakeable logo of our friend, Aphex Twin, flying above London town. That was when everyone went ape-shit…
Everyone knows that Aphex Twin’s output has been, pretty much, second to none in the IDM world. He’s released brilliant works and, more importantly, he’s been consistent. Many have peaked early or have taken a long period of time to create a name for themselves. James however, since his debut in 1992 with Selected Ambient Works 85-92, he has simply continued to release critically acclaimed work after critically acclaimed work.
Syro was hinted at in a similar guerrilla way to Arcade Fire’s Reflektor last year, only slightly more glaringly obvious. But, after only a short time, Syro was announced and the album ‘art’ (which consists of a list of album costs) was released.
Listening to Syro is a difficult experience, in a sense. Any listener of Aphex Twin will observe that with each subsequent studio album James will edit his approach; he will change his style. Syro is no different. Streets away from Drukqs, the IDM (or intelligent dance music) of this new album is much more glitchy than that of, say, Richard D. James Album and there are dark moments that (when out for a night-time walk) will unnerve the shit out of a listener. With this feature, James has taken a leaf out of the likes of fellow Brit, Andy Stott and his 2012 album, Luxury Problems. Where they differ though is the textures and the way in which sound is approached. Stott will form unfathomable pieces with bass drops that make you void your bowels; Aphex Twin is much more subtle in its approach to this. Paranoia will creep up on the listener with the likes of “XMAS_EVET10 (Thanaton3 Mix)” or “4 bit 9d api+e+6” whereas tracks like “Numb” from Luxury Problems imparts an immediate sense of doom.
Further slightly twisted moments come throughout the album. One prime example comes with the ending track, “aisatsana”. Throughout its playing time, “aisatsana” consists solely of roughly recorded piano and birds chirping in the trees. The track is ambient, it really is, and would fit in better with classical or piano based alternative rock genres. Stylistically, in that it’s unsettlingly pretty, it shares features with the piano basis for Oneohtrix Point Never’s “Replica” and the minimal set-up (and bird sounds) shares features with Radiohead’s “Codex”. “aisatsana” really shouldn’t fit on Syro but it’s because of that that it does. Aphex Twin has always been weird and so why shouldn’t a track that focusses on piano and ‘found’ sounds be on an album that is made up of idiosyncratic bleeps, rhythms and beats?
The true album highlight comes towards the end of Syro in the form of “CIRCLONT14 (Shrymoming Mix)”. This is possibly the most ‘dance-y’ track on the album as the listener will, almost undoubtedly, find themselves bobbing along to the piece. With a running time of longer than seven minutes, it is also one of the longer tracks on Syro but this time passes by so quickly that its length is inconsequential. There’s a stark contrast present too within Syro. Whereas such tracks as “minipops 67 (Source Field Mix)” are out and out weird as fuck, “CIRCLONT14 (Shrymoming Mix)” (and it’s fraternal twin “CIRCLONT6A (Syrobonkus Mix)”) takes intelligent dance music and really focusses in on the ‘dance’ aspect of the genre.
It is clear, in Syro, that what intrigued many a musician and about Aphex Twin is still present. There’s the eclecticism that James has made his name from, there’s the dance, the strange beats and the new aspects to his music that allows the listener to listen to something new (yet familiar) and be completely dumbstruck. Further, the more Syro is listened to, the more its weird polyrhythms and unique beats ingrain themselves within the listener’s mind. For anyone thinking about possibly listening to Richard D. James’ latest release, as Aphex Twin, then do so. It will not be a regrettable experience. To go back to the first paragraph: has electronic music been saved? I would say so.
Release: 19th September 2014
Genre: IDM, Glitch & Experimental Techno
Previous Works: Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (1992), Selected Ambient Works Volume II (1994) …I Care Because You Do (1995), Richard D. James Album (1996) and Drukqs (2001).
Contemporaries: Autechre, Boards of Canada and Oneohtrix Point Never
Influences: Brian Eno, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Renegade Soundwave
You can listen to “minipops 67 (Source Field Mix)” below:
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