Words About Music
Aphex Twin “Syro”
You’ve heard the story before: a ’90s legacy act comes back after a long hiatus and releases another album that either greatly disappoints or greatly impresses. You’ve probably heard the former more often than the latter. Truth is, it’s very rare that a band or artist can endure such a long hiatus without the potential legacy-sabotage that is the reunion or comeback album. My Bloody Valentine and Godspeed You! Black Emperor both did it successfully. Pixies and Black Sabbath? Not so much. Anyway, one of the most highly anticipated albums we had zero information on has always been infamous electronic musician Richard D. James’ follow-up to his maligned 2001 album “DrukQs.” Critics said it was overlong and messy, but it also features some of James’ most beautiful and complex compositions. Since then, though, we hadn’t heard much from Aphex Twin, James’ most well-known project. Sure we got a bit from AFX and The Tuss (maybe) and fans were treated to the lost Caustic Window album he recorded in 1994. But where was the guy who did the bonkers late-90s controversy-attractors “Come to Daddy” and “Windowlicker?” Where was the man behind Selected Ambient Works? The guy who made a lot of money off his scary-looking face? Well, he’s back. After an album rollout that rivals Boards of Canada’s and Daft Punk’s for “Best album rollouts of the decade” comes arguably the most highly anticipated album of 2014: “Syro.”
The first thing that struck me when I listened to “Syro” was how unassuming it is. It, unsurprisingly, sounds like just another Aphex Twin record. There’s indecipherable vocal samples, off-the-wall drum-loops, beautifully textured synth sounds; it’s basically captured the Aphex Twin sound so well that it couldn’t possibly be anyone else but RDJ. Instead of capitalizing on the anticipation to release something subpar, James treated it like he would any of his other albums. It’s a progression just as much as it’s a look back at his entire career. Technology in 2014 is much different from the technology that was around the last time we heard new Aphex Twin music, and that is something that James has definitely taken advantage of. That’s not to say that this record sounds simpler, though. Sure, he could theoretically create his music much quicker with easier means, but the music on this album is just as complex and layered as nearly anything James has put out. Where “DrukQs” felt like a long series of ideas, “Syro” feels like an accomplished and coherent album with a lot of work put behind it.
“Syro” could have absolutely been a disappointment. Nearly every album that comes after such a long wait is almost destined to disappoint. But, it manages to feel fresh while also sounding like Aphex Twin. It blends the calculated nature of Autechre with the creepy emotions conjured up by some of Boards of Canada’s best music. James is so great at what he does that it doesn’t even sound like a computer was involved in the making of this album. It almost feels like these are sounds that should just occur in nature. “Syro” may not stand as James’ most consistent work as it can be a bit all over the place stylistically, but the sounds and songs that are on here all work in their own contexts.
This album is a textbook example of a comeback done right. If James is really sitting on as much material as he claims to be (which is five or six albums) then we’re in for another plethora of excellent music that really takes back the definition of EDM. It takes everything that detractors like to say about electronically synthesized music and pretty much invalidates every single argument. “Syro” is an album that conveys emotion both within and without. It can be in the foreground and the background. You can let it envelop you, or you can let it play while you study. It’s an album that doesn’t demand your attention, but you certainly won’t be sorry for giving it. Even if it had come out in 2004 rather than 2014 it still would have showcased James’ many, many talents. It’s just that good.
SCORE – 9.3
FAVORITE TRACKS – minipops 67, XMAS_EVET10, produk 29, 4 bit 9d api+e+6, CIRCLONT6A, CIRCLONT14, syro u473t8+e, aisatsana