A new Aphex Twin album, his first in 13 or so years (unless you count his steady output on Rephlex – don’t worry no one else does), accompanied by everything from a blimp across London, to real live interviews with the man himself which did exactly what it was intended to do. Build the hype. There were track by track breakdowns, blanket music media coverage from outlets that wouldn’t give him the time of day 15 years ago, and quasi detective work, like everyone was anticipating that it wasn’t actually Aphex, but rather a roomful of chimps tapping out random keys on synthesizers supplied by the Warp corporation, only to be revealed at a later date to embarrass an enthusiastic journalist who proclaims this album the second coming. In all it’s a little difficult to separate this album from the media savvy myth making, and indeed our own expectations.
So a few months on and the dust has settled somewhat and we’re left with an album called Syro. The first impression is that it’s difficult to place it in a certain time frame. It does posses all of those Aphexisms, moments of squelchy acid, disembodied vocals, thoughtful near modal synth pads and a feeling that everything is exactly where he intends it to be. Yet the first three pieces in particular sound like off cuts from other older albums, kind’ve plodding along without any sense of direction. There’s timeless, and there’s not of this time, there’s the future and the past, and Syro weaves a fine line between them. If Aphex is releasing a new album you hope that he has something new to say, yet it takes until the 5th track, “180db_” to begin to feel any kind of adrenalin, with a techno throb, breakbeats and woozy distorted synths. It’s here you remember his alchemic skills to turn the experimental and difficult into pop, offering a context to engage even if experimental electronic weirdness is an alien world.
From about this point on the bpm’s seem to increase and “CIRCLONT14 [152.97][Shrymorning Mix]” is particularly energetic, cleverly fusing gabba breakbeats and a child’s (?) vocals to create a utopian acid frenzy with a side order of naivety. It’s these contradictions that were always fascinating about Aphex and his ability to fuse them together in a coherent, musical and dare I say it, song like approach is almost peerless in the electronic world.
“PAPAT4[pineal mix]” too is fascinating, again due to the contradictions, furious breakbeats alongside squelchy house keys with a twist in the tail. Again it’s not necessarily forging new ground, rather it possess a certain cheekiness and freedom to not just travel over but excavate old ground and turn it on its side. It’s inventive in that it effortlessly combines worlds that do not meet.
And perhaps that’s the key to Syro. There’s an abundance of breakbeats, little Tourettes frenzies accompanied by those soulful strings and a pop like desire for songlike compositional integrity. It’s the old world mixing with Aphex’ s world, there’s a hyperactive desire for movement, the tunes breathe, they evolve, moving through different sound worlds all the while retaining a compositional integrity.
There’s no “Come to Daddy” “Digeridoo,” or “Windowlicker” moments here, he’s not been holding out on us for the last decade with electro pop video clip fodder – or perhaps he still is. It’s an easy out to suggest that it feels more like a reveal, like an exhibition of the soul behind the evil smirking grimace, the soul behind the myth, yet it bears striking parallels to much of his earlier work, albeit perhaps a little more accessible than say 1995’s I Care Because You Do, or even the significantly noisier 1996 Richard D James album. Any of these tunes could easily have come off these two albums. Except the final piece, the reflective solo piano piece “aisatsana,” that with its sparse stillness and occasionally imprecise playing, is more life affirming and soulful than everything else that has preceded it. If you’re desperate for something definitive and something new, then perhaps it’s this final piece that’s for you.