Aphex Twin: Syro (3xLP Warp, September 2014)

As I mentioned recently, I was a huge Aphex fan back in the day. So I was pretty excited about his first full album in 13 years and his first proper release in 7. Given his long-standing haphazard attitude to quality control, and frankly the downturn in quality of his more recent material, I was also a bit nervous. My first impression when I heard this was that it was definitely interesting and would need a few more listens. Interesting is a good start, right? A good few listens later, I think I’m ready to say that this is actually really good. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is better than Drukqs. And I actually quite liked Drukqs. As for how it compares to his mid-90s material… I really can’t say. Those records changed my life in a way this never could. But it makes me feel nostalgic and happy while also sounding excitingly futuristic, and that’s a pretty good result.

Enough circumlocution, let’s get on with it. Syro is powerfully strange. It uses sounds and rhythms and even key signatures which are uniquely RDJ’s, and puts them together in totally unexpected ways. He claims that no two bars are identical, and I can believe that. It’s like the music evolves, with periods of gradual mutation (a beat added, a filter tweaked) broken up by sudden jumps. All of which could be pretty irksome except that… you know what, he’s still really really good at this stuff, and once you’ve got your head into the right place, everything seems totally natural and right, logical according to some weird parallel-universe logic. Plus, it’s actually pretty catchy.

The first track, minipops 67 (source field mix), was the one which got all the advanced radio play, and is a sort of deranged funk with not-quite-comprehensible vocal moaning noises that kind of reminds me of Windowlicker. The next three tracks are a lovely bloopy ambient techno somewhere on an axis between Selected Ambient Works 85‒92 and …I Care Because You Do. I’d call out produkt 29 for the impressive feat of taking a frankly quite annoying vocal sample of sloaney clubbers and making it sound just perfect in the context: the moment at the end when everything comes together and I realized that the whole track had been shaped around the rhythm and cadence of the sample made me very happy. Moving onto the second disc, things get a bit harder, with 180db_ reminding me a little bit of Quoth, and CIRCOLONT6A (syrobonkus mix) and CIRCOLONT14 (shrymoming mix) both being pleasingly upbeat (the exception is the 58 second-long time-stretched-vocal interlude of fz pseudotimestretch+e+3). The third disc opens with the syncopated glitches of syro u473t8+e, follows them up with two rather excellent tracks of Hangable Autobulb-style drill’n’bass. The final a piano number (which he debuted in the Barbican show where he swung a player piano over the stage on a trapeze, of course) which inevitably recalls the Satie-esque numbers on Drukqs — except that there was nothing on there that was quite this warm and delicate and alien all at the same time. Plus, this has sampled birdsong and it’s title, aisatsana, is his wife’s name backward. Does this mean that the grumpy sod (who talks proudly in interviews of his kid’s hacking skills) has finally mellowed? I don’t know. But if he’s back to making music this good, I don’t mind.

I bought this from Bleep. They call it Electronic and Electronica.

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