There’s really no way to adequately describe the music of Aphex Twin to those that are unfamiliar with Richard D. James’ unique brand of schizophrenic and beautifully chaotic offerings. Even the most eloquent of writers will fall short of doing James’ music justice because it’s so unbelievably unique and iconic to the point of basically requiring its own genre (though James has stated in interviews that he has somewhat of a distaste for the labels required when shoving a certain type of music into a genre).
A staggering 12 years has managed to pass by with not even a peep from the Aphex Twin camp, and then something rather exciting happened: the Aphex Twin logo began appearing around London causing quite the buzz on the internet. This was shortly followed by the announcement from James that a new album was indeed imminent. And so this brings us to the beautifully-named Syro, James’ first release under the Aphex Twin name since 2001, and boy was it worth the wait.
It must have been quite difficult for James (though no one really knows how he must be feeling because interviews with him are so incredibly rare) since any new release was always going to be subject to the usual level of expectation surrounding his music, which is substantial to say the least. But that’s because James, under the Aphex Twin alias, has always managed to produce audible gold that in spite not being everyone’s cup of tea, is objectively and undeniably bordering on genius with each passing track. This musical intellect was last seen in 2001′s Drukqs, a 30-track epic that dares to dabble with an almost effortless brilliance in the distinctive archetypal styles typical of many genres from Drum and Bass to Classical Piano; the album pretty much epitomises the glitch audio style and is possibly even the father (or at least a distant relative) of the glitch-hop genre that exists today.
But we’re focuses on Syro here, and the aforementioned brilliance is no less pronounced in this case, but merely distilled into a sort of brilliance concentrate over the relatively few tracks (12 in total) that populate the album. Those not accustomed to Aphex Twin’s sound will most likely have to dilute this concentrate with rest periods in between tracks, such is James’ loyalty to the classic Aphex Twin sound that his true fans have come to fall in love with. It may sound chaotic to outsiders, but there isn’t one beat or sample that isn’t entirely deliberate, not one jarring sound that isn’t meant to be exactly where it is, and not even a faint whisper of pandering to any sort of expectations or attempt to fit in with the typical sound or feel of the currently-shambolic music industry.
From Syro’s outset you know that you’re in familiar Aphex Twin territory with the opener minipops 67 (source field mix), a relatively tonal and pleasant-sounding collection of undulating bass and squishy synths, and an underlying bass line that typifies Aphex Twin’s sound. minipops is excellent as an opener because it sort of a statement that Aphex Twin is back and it sounds as gloriously melodic yet purposefully discordant as ever, particularly when the hauntingly off-key melody begins to overlay the track towards the end, accompanied by some quintessentially Aphex Twin-esque vocals that are as eerie as they are reminiscent of the vocals on the more well-known classics like Windowlicker.
As the opener ends and XMAS_EVET10 (thanaton3 mix) begins playing, Aphex Twin’s classic psychedelic sound takes centre stage, beginning with a misleadingly wobbly synth/bass pattern and introducing a substantially haunting melody on a piano that has that warm and slightly out-of-tune sound that lays between a regular piano and a tack piano sound. Beautiful is the word here, but haunting is the atmosphere. This track compliments CIRCLONT6A (syrobonkus mix) very well, though this latter track is more of a despair-filled and often distressing horror-fest of distortion-laden voices and feedback.
There are two tracks that serve to distract from the full-on Aphex Twin sound that was typical of 1995′s Come To Daddy. produk 29 is a funk-fuelled excursion that lacks direction and purpose as well as the typical, dark Aphex Twin flare one would expect. CI RCLONT14 (shrymoming mix) is similarly without aim, seemingly there to act as a demonstration of just how experimental Aphex Twin can be. s950tx16wasr10 (earth portal mix) could be said to be of the same vain, but it may please many break-beat fans and is quite fascinatingly similar to an audible representation of falling over the event horizon of a black hole.
The opening track may very well be the favourite of many since it typifies the Aphex Twin sound like no other track on this album does. The album lacks the daring nature of Richard D. James’ previous excursions into organised musical schizophrenia, but Syro is definitely Aphex Twin through-and-through, and Pitchfork says this won’t be his last album, so perhaps we should see Syro as a taster of things to come as you settle down with the beautiful piano refrains of the album’s final track aisatsana .