23 September 2014

Aphex Twin - SYRO

(Brief line here - This album have now been nominated for the Mercury music prize for 2015.  This review was published 23 September 2014.)

Oh, I have been waiting for a long time for this album.  For me, I can still remember the first moment I heard Aphex Twin and where I was.  I would love to say it was in some nightclub and that I was a young hipster (well, maybe not a hipster, but you know what I am getting at), but that was not the case.  It was in a record shop in North Shields called Off The Record, the track was called "Didgeridoo" and it was not like anything I had ever heard before in my life.  At that point, I was a metal head and all music had to be heavy.  Indie - forget it, I wanted noise, guitars that sounded like heaven imploding and death scream.  So the chances of me liking anything of an electronic nature were small.  Now, Off The Record was predominantly a dance record store but the owner would get me the latest rock and metal releases as he was a good lad.  When I went it, he would play some of his favourite tunes just to laugh at my reaction to the music, mostly it was me laughing; but over the years a few gems were dropped.  I still remember the first remix of "The Green Man" by Shut Up & Dance; there was also a fantastic mix of "Magic Fly" from early electronic pioneers Space - however, nothing compares to how "Didgeridoo" hit me.  It was a jaw dropping moment in my musical experience and along with the first time I heard Machine Head, I can say it is one of those times where I just had to buy the song there and then.  So from that point forward, I have always been interested in whatever is being released by Mr R D James.

Very brief history lesson for the people who are new to the sound of Aphex Twin:  according to various sources, the first release from Mr James was under the name AFX and was called 'Analogue Bubble Bath' which was released in 1991, with "Didgeridoo" being the first extended play under the Aphex Twin name the following year.  Over the years, Aphex Twin has five studio albums, three complication albums and nine eps - until till now.  Now there is a sixth studio album, which is not an odds and sods album which has been drawn together from songs since the last release in 2004.  This is a brand new album, which has been hyped in a way that I have not seen since the surprised announcement of the last David Bowie album; but Aphex Twin has always managed to be a master of publicity, whilst keeping them out of range as well.  He is the ultimate enigma in music, a man with a huge amount of music to release to the world; yet we know next to fuck all about him.  He admits he does not like the personality side of the music industry and that is fine by me.  I like the mystery, it adds to the music at times and that is something that is missing in the age of easy access via iTunes, Amazon and Spotify (I know, the irony that I put those links below is not lost on me).  So, for the past few months I have awaiting the day I could start this review, I have looked at each photo that has been released to see if I could gain any hint as to what the album is going to be about, how it is going to sound - I got the square root of jack all and this made me so happy! I like that very much, so as you can expect I am a little excited to start this review.   But has the years away from Aphex Twin changed the sound, has it diluted the formula?  Let’s see if I am building myself up for a disappointment....

The album starts with "minipops 67 [120.2] (source field mix)" which was also the lead single for the album as well. When I first heard it, I was not sure what to make of it.  To be honest, it is not as bonkers and strange as his earlier work; but there is still the odd noodle of noise that brings to mind the younger Mr James.  After repeated listens, once you get over the "ohmygoohmygoohmyfuckinggoitisanewaphextwinsongiamgonnashitinmypants" feeling of excitement you are left with some wondrous noise that would not have been out of place in the 90's, the 00's or now.  It has a timeless quality, without resorting to screwing with the listener’s perception of reality.  Next it the beast called "XMAS_EVET10 [120] (thanaton3 mix)", which comes in at ten minutes and thirty one seconds.  Again, this is a very misleading sort of track; there is a very easy going vibe floating on the top of the number, but if you scratch beneath the surface there is this dark and twist ambient abyss waiting to wash over you and claim you are its own.  When I was listening to the track, in places it was reminding me of Robert Logan - but then it occurred to me that this is just the sort of thing that Mr James has been doing for years and influence and originality are the same here.  It is a mesmerising song and does not fail to engage the listen through each twist and turn.  After this is "produk 29 [101]" which comes across as a rather bizarre hip-hop beat techno electronica hybrid and noise piece.  Same as it ever was with Mr James, total original and still off the wall without all the blood.  The vocal sample in the middle is particularly chilling when you are not expecting it.

"4 bit 9d api+e+6 [126.26]"continues the strange working of this album, which so far has not been as confrontational as earlier releases, yet it is still not an easy listen in places.  Again, you have the trademark sense of evil lurking in the corners and the bass, oh that wondrous bass sound.  Playing this as loud as possible has been the second biggest point of joy for me musically this year for me, the song was just designed to make the bones rattle and move.  The biggest point of joy is the bass of  "180db_ [130]" - like The Bug and the song "Fuck You", it is one of those moments where you are just a slave to the song.  But the bass on this song that starts with a kick drum pounding into your life and never really leaving.  It is another jaw dropping example of Aphex Twin at the peak of the genre and not giving a fuck if about the rest of the world.  It has nothing to do with any current scene or movement; it is just an instant classic from the one man genre that is Aphex Twin.  The track which is burdened with the unenviable task of following "180db_[130]" is  "CIRCLONT6A [141.98] (syrobonkus mix)", but it is an admirable slice of noise that drive the point home that this man is still dangerous.  The levels of noise and different sounds that are going on in this song are mind boggling and it does bring the first half of this album to a spectacular conclusion.

Starting the section of this album is the interlude which is "fz pseudotimestretch+e+3 [138.85]", a minute long piece of sound and bleeps which gives way to the next track - "CIRCLONT14 [152.97] (shrymoming mix)".  This is one of the more straight forward songs on offer here, with a fast beat and drifting keyboards mixed with mystical vocals, you have a classic which will have people trying to keep up with the fucked up beats and rhythms that flow from the speakers.  It may not be as challenging as "Come To Daddy" or "Windowlicker", but you have a track which stand up to anything else that is on this album and does not take prisoners at all.  The ninth track is called "syro u473t8+e [141.98] (piezoluminescence mix)" which ones again has a hip-hop feel to the beats and is yet another likeable track that keeps up all the good work that has been building through this album.  It is a quintessential Aphex Twin track, but once again the aggression of years gone by is not as in your face; but when the music sounds this good, who cares!  It is not as if he is all of a sudden making nursery rhymes and X-Factor anthems, it is still deviant electronica, just with a measure of experience that cannot be replicated by many.

"PAPAT4 [155] (pineal mix)" was almost the album of the track, but it does not quite take the crown from "180db_[130]".  What this track represents, is the perfect marriage of all the piece of the album into one perfect four minutes slice of electronica that makes this blogger feel like he is in his youth once again.  The hairs on my body are all standing on end, even after I have gotten over the fact I am listening to a new Aphex Twin album.  It has everything that is good with Mr James in it, there is no negative with this track (or anything that has gone on before here); it is just a track that keeps on given, even after it has ended.  The penultimate track is called  "s950tx16wasr10 [163.97] (earth portal mix)" and the spooky is brought out by Aphex Twin at this point. The uneasy noise is front and centre, the fast keyboards and perverse squeaks and sounds just drip over this number to cascade into the listener note by rancid note.  Ending the album is "aisatsana [102]" which acts as a comedown to the break neck pace of the rest of the album.  A piano track with countryside noises in the background, you can imagine the summer happening outside the studio whilst it was being recorded.  It is a serine ending to this noisy album.

The wait for this album has been long and in someways most people would have given up hope of every hearing another album where the artist title was Aphex Twin.  I don't know if the wait justifies the end result of the album that will be told in the fullness of time.  But it is a glorious piece of noise that once again shows that whilst there are many noise and electronica artist out there who are doing some sterling stuff, there has always been one man who is just so far ahead of the curve that he just keeps everyone guessing to what he will do next.  The tiles are a tad weird, but boys will have the messy ways and I can only hazard to guess what the rest of the world will feel to this album.  For me, it is one of those records which improve more and more after each listen.  Mainly because you firstly have to separate it from the rest of Aphex Twin and remember that the man who made this album, well he is not the same youth who made all those classics from years ago.  He is a different version of that person with different experiences and goals.  But with this album, the change is subtle and still with a degree of danger; Aphex Twin is not a soft docile beast, there is still a vicious undercurrent of menace about the album.  It is not an instant classic by any stretch of the imagination, but it is damn close to being one.  I have a feeling like with the Nick Cave album from last year; I might regret this mark in the future and wish it was higher.  The music is still beyond what anyone else is doing, but that is just business as usual for Mr James; just don't expect knives in the head, more like cuts to the soul.

9 out of ten - Almost perfect, almost. 

Top track - "180db_ [130]

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can follow the activities of Aphex Twin on Facebook here

Here is a link to the Aphex Twin page on Warp Records

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

For our Deezer users, here is a link for you to listen to the album

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