Aphex Twin returns. If you haven’t seen it, the mind-boggling video for ‘T69 Collapse’ is out now, a typically dense and terrifying affair with peppered with glimpses of that famous logo, now burned into the dreams of the many Richard D. James fans at Point Blank headquarters.
He’s one of those artists, like Bjork or Radiohead, that inspires obsessive compulsion in his fans. Case in point: when the new EP was released it came with the following obscured press release of scrambled language and within hours a fan had deciphered it and shared it online. It isn’t exactly surprising, however: a mixture of mystery, peerless invention and stunning production skills add up to one of the most important and inspirational musicians of the last thirty years. To celebrate the new release, we thought we’d look back on his long career and pick out ten of our personal favourites.
Analogue Bubblebath – Aphex Twin (Later AFX) – Analogue Bubblebath
Where else to begin but his first release as Aphex Twin? By this point, James had been tinkering with a steadily-collected hoard of analogue synths and electrical curiosities, DJing his own tapes at a local pub in Cornwall, even writing computer programmes. Despite that intimidating technicality, Analogue Bubblebath is defined by its warmth and groove over any overt strangeness. Rhythm and drums take precedent, as they have done ever since, and a mythological figure was born.
Xtal – Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works Vol.1
This track is a lot of people’s favourites and, as the first track on Aphex’ first album-length release, it’s often the first track of his they have heard. Rumbling bass falls away from a delightfully bottomless break, hushed vocal snippets flutter and swarm while mournful chords inject a disarming sense of euphoria and melancholy. Irresistible.
Quoth – Polygon Window – Surfing on Sine Waves
Straight-up banging techno defined by incredible drum-programming. It’s easy to forget it now with techno’s stranglehold on much of clubbing across Europe but in 1993 techno didn’t mean what it does now and Quoth was among the earlier of what become known as the British style of techno that would be synonymous with artists like Luke Slater.
Rhubarb – Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works
Arguably the most beautiful track produced by Richard James under any guise. Its inclusion is fitting too on the weekend of Houghton festival, as when Nicolas Jaar played the track at the inaugural festival last year, it marked the moment that the weekend was written as a classic in the minds of those who attended.
Come on You Slags – Aphex Twin – …I Care Because You Do
…I Care Because You Do was around the time that James’ music as Aphex Twin started to become denser and stranger. At this point, he had started to become more influenced by jungle and drum and bass, which you can hear in the drum programming, yet the tone of the drums veers away from the dancefloor focus of most artists working in the genre. Come on you slags is notable for the icy feel and humour, reflected too in the album’s artwork – when James began to use his own unsettlingly modified face for his visuals.
Windowlicker – Aphex Twin – Windowlicker
Famous as much for its disturbing video, directed by Chris Cunningham, as the tune itself, Windowlicker is arguably James’ biggest track. The video is the stuff of nightmares, his distorted face subverting the tropes of the big budget hip-hop videos of the late nineties. The tune itself is a masterclass in intricate sound-design and left-turns, yet somehow manages to retain a warmth and sense of melody.
Heroes (Philip Glass Remix) – Aphex Twin – 26 Mixes for Cash
Philip Glass’ reimagining of David Bowie’s Heroes is a soaring interpretation of the freedom and abandon captured in the original. For his remix, James twists both it and Bowie’s original vocals into a ghostly mashup, the singer’s voice stretched out of time to create the vague sense that the track is being beamed from somewhere in outer space. It’s disconcerting and utterly gorgeous.
54 Cymru Beats – Aphex Twin – Drukqs
Aphex twin has always been forthright about his Celtic heritage, born as he was in Ireland to Welsh parents and raised in Cornwall. Here, one of his most frenetic tracks, jungle squeezed like a lemon, a computerized voice speaks pseudo-technical gibberish in Welsh. Drukqs was to be the last album he would make as Aphex Twin for over a decade, though tracks like this one suggest he was at the peak of his powers.
CIRKLON3 [ Колхозная mix ] – Aphex Twin – Cheetah EP
Though he continued to make music under different guises in the interceding years, 2014’s Syro was the first Aphex Twin music in some time, announced in cryptic style by flying a blimp bearing the Aphex Twin logo over London. It’s a great record but perhaps more interesting was the Cheetah EP released two years later. He made it entirely using an obscure and famously user-unfriendly digital synth, the Cheetah MS800. Practically nobody has used it to make music due to the difficulty in programming it, which makes it the perfect tool for an Aphex record. The result is a surprisingly warm and easy listen.
Last week the Aphex Twin logo started appearing around the world, first in London’s Elephant and Castle, followed by LA, Chicago, Turin and many more. The music at which it hinted was a new EP, due out on 13 September, preceded by the first track T69 Collapse. An odyssey of digital visualizations came too, and with it that snarling face, mangled once more in menace and delight. It’s good to have him back.
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