One of the most interesting questions that one could ask about music, no rx in 2014, order is what exactly is Aphex Twin’s place in the currently landscape? Does he even have one? This seems to be the question that Richard James is asking himself on his first release under his most famous moniker in 13 years. Though the composer has released music under various names in the past decade or so, cure such as The Tuss and Analord, releasing something on the name Aphex Twin, the name that a lot of the biggest names in music, from Skrillex to Radiohead, Kanye West to Daft Punk cite as an influence, is inevitably going to draw attention.
During the build up to the release of this record James has alluded that he may stop performing under the name Aphex Twin. His logic is that the name has quite simply outgrown himself, and that performing live no longer provides a challenge to him, that people will cheer regardless of what he does. He’s also stated that he’s got thousands of hours of music recorded, and that many of it is quite simply for his own listening pleasure rather than for public consumption. So perhaps it would be fair to say that he himself is questioning where exactly his place is. Given his extreme ubiquity over electronic music, its easy to understand why he’s shied away from releasing anything, knowing the weight of expectation that will accompany it.
If we can learn one thing from Syro it’s that James’ most famous imitators, Skrillex and Zedd for example, have likely missed the one of the most crucial aspects that makes him what he is, which are his subtleties. None of the 12 tracks on Syro wallop you in the face, which is what a lot of electronic musicians seemed to have learned from James, but rather they unfold rather gracefully, begging you to listen to them multiple times. A lot of pieces on the this record delve into the hard hitting drum n bass and acid house that has been his biggest impact on (relatively) mainstream electronic music, but the best tracks are easily the ambient ones. It’s long been suspected that some of the biggest songs from Aphex Twin, such as “Windowlicker”, “Come to Daddy” and “Rubber Johnny” where parodies of the dance music (The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers) that was popular at the time. Syro doesn’t necessarily confirm this, but it could certainly add some credence to the argument. That said, the songs on this record that will get you dancing lack the mind blowing, unpredictable insanity of his biggest hits.
Not as challenging or as abstract as 2001’s Drukq’s, Syro is an album that, with its skittered drum beats, funky bass lines and icy synths, harkens back to the James’ past, rather than reaching to the future, meaning it arguably goes against what Aphex Twin stands for. It’s not a classic by any means, but if it does turn out to be his swansong he could certainly do a lot worse.
By Adam Duke