Falling into the category of musicians-who-once-released-albums-on-a-semi-regular-basis-only-to-stop-abruptly-coming-back-decades-later, is now Aphex Twin. After about 13 years of what seems to be a stint in solitary confinement, Syro was released, much to our excitement and appreciation!
[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/166180397″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
Aphex Twin, real name Richard D. James, is the latest to emerge from what was such an uncharacteristic break from the world of electronic music. Having released 5 albums in the decade prior, Syro is his first release since 2001’s Drukqs. After such a long break from recording and releasing music it’s almost easy to forget what an innovative and exciting figure Aphex Twin is in the ever expanding world of 1990s electronic music. His album sales or media exposure would never place him with the big acts of the time such as The Prodigy or The Chemical Brothers, but there is arguably no artist from the time who reinvented themselves so effortlessly from album to album, who incorporated so many of the emerging sub-genres of electronic music into a (somewhat) cohesive body of work, or who captured the potential of mixing electronic music with ground breaking cinematography (with gratitude for a number of choice collaborations with music video director Chris Cunningham).
Following Drukqs, no new albums were forthcoming. In true Aphex style, Richard didn’t entirely disappear. There were rumours of work being released under another alias that would fill internet message boards, but from a man who (in)famously had little regard for interacting with or being truthful to journalists, there was never a direct link to the artist himself, to confirm or deny any of his artistic intentions. Even Aphex Twin’s long time record label, Warp Records, could not answer to the progress or existence of any of Aphex Twin’s projects.
Fast forward to a rather overcast August afternoon. A blimp that carries the famous Aphex Twin logo is spotted flying over London. Fans are discombobulated. Was this confirmation of a new album, or merely an audacious prank from the man himself? Days later a press release (only accessible on the deep web) states in typical Aphex-style jumbled English, confirms the release of his first album in 13 long years: Syro.
Some long-time fans of Aphex Twin would be disappointed if Syro didn’t pursue a new path for his music in the way that his previous albums did. There is little re-invention found in the 12 tracks that comprise Syro. However, it does deliver an almost comprehensive reevaluation of a number of the styles and genres that he already used back in his 90s heyday. Album opener ‘minipops 67’ features the same characteristic synths that created such a beautiful and peaceful effect in his early work on the ‘Ambient Selected Works’ albums, but it is mixed with an utterly startling and unsettling vocal piece run through a vocoder. The theme of polished and melodic synth and drum work that is interrupted by unexpected shift in tempo is something that is present in a number of the songs on the album, including the 10 minute ‘XMAS_EVE10’ and the mysterious ‘4 bit 9d’. What is subdued on Syro, that he began to establish in his work before his hiatus, is the harsher, more avant-garde beats. Some elements of this can still be found on the stuttering ‘CIRCLONT14’.
It would be wrong to suggest that Richard D. James has toned it down with Syro. ‘PAPAT4’ is another song that starts with gorgeous synths but soon unravels into something almost resembling classic 90s jungle. It is probably the most upbeat track on the record. Aphex Twin closes the album with a sparse and haunting piano piece ‘aisatsana’. Reminiscent of older work, such as ‘Avril 14th’, which Kanye West sampled and supposedly dedicated to his wife, the song mixes slow piano work that seems to echo, as if it was recorded in a cathedral. A rich field recording of birdsong provides texture behind the piano, adding another layer of emotion to what is already a prominent moment on the album.
While Syro does not completely re-write the book on modern electronic music, it also doesn’t feel dated, which is sometimes the downfall of long-absent returning artists. At the very least, Syro adds another impressive and, at times, incredible chapter to the work of Aphex Twin. I only hope it’s not another thirteen years for the next album.