Aphex Twin: Come to Daddy (Warp Records, 1997) and Syro (Warp Records, 2014)
As with rap/hip-hop, my relationship to electronica is as a casual fan, though there are some artists in whom I’m a little more invested. Richard D. James is among them, though you wouldn’t know it by current collection — these are the only two things of his I’ve got in a physical format. (I lost my well-worn copy of Selected Ambient Works 85-92 in one of my post-undergrad moves, and never got around to replacing it; other things drifted in and out of my possession and/or got downloaded.)
He’s released stuff under many different aliases, but Aphex Twin is the one by which he’s probably most recognized (though I think he’s actually put out MORE material as AFX…). He’s proven very good at keeping people guessing over the years, including the nearly 13 years between Drukqs and Syro; oceans of verbiage have been spilled critiquing/questioning his music, performance aesthetic, and the overall veil of secrecy he’s managed to maintain for nigh-on 30 years of activity. It’s tricky to summarize his music, though it’s often labeled IDM (or “intelligent dance music”), meaning it’s rooted in the same fundamental urges as techno etc. but more “cerebral” than purely booty-shaking. I don’t think I can do better than that, so.
The Come to Daddy EP came out around the height of the first US electronica craze, while albums by Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, and Moby were making major commercial waves. I dunno if James was looking to cash in on the fad — many of the songs have vocals, which is unusual for him — and if so, how that worked out, but this is bonkers and awesome. The lead-off cut, “Come to Daddy (Pappy Mix),” is one of the more straight-ahead Aphex tracks, meaning that it mostly locks into a steady groove and doesn’t make too many detours; over that, James lays on distorted vocals which are really just him repeating “I WANT YOUR SOUL, I WILL EAT YOUR SOUL.” Disturbing — as are the two alternate versions, both of which are basically unrecognizable as such. “Flim” and “IZ-US” occupy a more serene space (the former is genuinely pretty, albeit with some insane polyrhythms percolating underneath) that’s a sweet counterpoint to (for me) the highlight, “Bucephalus Bouncing Ball,” which somehow builds a driving dance track out of what sounds like metallic beads being dropped and allowed to skitter around in a resonant room.
Syro is a triple LP (!) that’s the product of several years of work. For the most part, it’s more restrained and “open” — the tempos average out a little slower than a lot of his earlier work, and even on the faster cuts, he leaves a lot of space in the texture. Each track feels like a little self-contained statement, and there is a LOT to absorb here. “produk 29” settles into a slow-low syncopation, with cool little bass burbles; the droning “fz pseudotimestretch+e+3” wavers woozily for less than a minute before the hyperspeed “CIRCLONT14 (shrymoming mix)” tears in with arpeggiated synth-bass stuff that shifts unpredictably between duple and triple subdivisions (geeking, I know), while treated vocal samples and square waves float lazily over it all. Vintage synths combine with more recent technology to produce a rekkid that’s both warm and jagged. Listing all the highlights would take up a whole page, and I’d still not do it full justice. I love this, a lot.