Considering that 13 years have passed since Richard D. James released an LP under the pseudonym ‘Aphex Twin’, the prospect of an imminent follow up to 2001 release Drukqs would have seemed unlikely earlier this year. Yet when a blimp appeared over London decorated with Aphex Twins’ logo and the number ‘2014’, it was pretty clear what was to come. Days later, via the depths of the internet, the man himself confirmed it: Aphex Twin was back with new music.
For me, the big question following the announcement of the new album was simply: ‘what next?’ After revolutionising electronic music, where was there for the ambient pioneer to go? Well, the most interesting thing about the new record is the fact that the constant re-invention that took place throughout the 90s seems to have stopped. Syro is, instead, a beautiful amalgamation of a number of past releases.
But it is important not to focus on the past, focus more on the fact that you are actually listening to new Aphex Twin music. He certainly comes hard out of the blocks, making use of challenging wordless singing, stabby drum and bass beats and light airy synths to create an aggressive yet swirling feel on opening track ‘minipops 67’. Nowhere is this style more apparent than on one of the album’s highlights, fifth track ‘180db’, which sounds like a club has turned off the gravity and people are floating around in euphoria. This is a repeated theme, with ten and a half minute thriller ‘XMAS_EVET10’ taking a slightly different approach with a strange yet cohesive combination of a brassy opening, a dainty piano riff, eerie synth effects and the re-emergence of that sharp drum and bass beat. One cannot help but feel that it does not quite need to be ten and a half minutes, but there are moments in there that make it impossible not to start moving.
James has not completely abandoned his trademark ambience for floating dance floors, with 10th track ‘PAPAT4’ sounding like a fanfare to some intergalactic royalty, and one of the more fascinating tracks on the album being a minute of eeriness, not dissimilar to what I’d imagine a dying robot would sound like.
However, the undoubted highlights of the album definitely adopt a more poppy tone, and give the impression that they could fill a dance floor in a second. This is exemplified by track 9, the catchily titled ‘syro u473t8+e’. Funk inspired keyboard riffs that carve through the start of the track soon give way to a more dainty feel, with lighter sounding synths and strange yet delicate French vocals. ‘CIRCLONT6A’ also goes down these lines, its bleeping synths crushing your head from all angles and forcing you to move. It is a head-crushing piece meant for dancing to, and is another highlight.
Reading this, you may think that Syro would be somewhat disjointed, and you’d be right. But to me it is disjointed in an extremely cohesive way that takes great skill. Although there are tracks on there that I would deem to be below the level we have become used to on his albums, such as ‘CIRCLONT14’, overall the album is a triumph. It is beautifully considered and refined – you’d expect nothing less after 13 years – and has many fascinating features. It is finished off perfectly with ‘aisatsana’, a piano piece reminiscent of ‘Avril 14th’ from 2001’s Drukqs, and by the end I was completely won over. Syro is another fantastic effort from Aphex Twin, and was well and truly worth the wait.
By Angus Macleod