A Journal Of The Dark Arts

Aphex Twin – Houston, TX 12.17.16 review

Aphex Twin Houston album review

It’s all hands on the faders and knobs, as Richard D. James, aka the Aphex Twin, turns in a lovely, unusual, anonymous 12″, in honour of his first show on American soil in 8 years.

We have been spoiled with new Aphex Twin, here in the second decade of the 21st Century. After a staggering 13-year silence – at least as far as “major” albums and releases were concerned – Aphex Twin has been deluging us with bells, blangs, clangs, and whistles, constructed and codified into freewheeling, headspinning post-techno/acid meltdowns.  It’s always curious to speculate what produces these floods and draughts, whether it’s a cash-grab on the musician’s part, label pressure, the musician becoming re-inspired, or simply a case of right-place-right-time.

We suspect it’s these latter two, in regards to Richard D. James and his relentless onslaught of technoid transmissions, these past few years. Rather than Aphex Twin trying to jump on some bandwagon and get hip with the kids, it seems the kids and the Twin are intersecting, obsessing and drooling over archaic and obscure electronic music tools.

In honor of his first performance in the United States in 8 years, at Houston’s Day For Night Festival, James showed up with a mysterious white-label 12″, bearing only the Aphex logo and some cryptic, Jandek-ian typography. The Houston, Tx 12.17.16 12″ is comprised of two edits, of seemingly the same, or similar, source material. It seems as if Aphex Twin is jamming around with his gear, whatever gear that may be (although one user over at the We Are The Music Makers forum thought it sounded like Aphex Twin rocking an Electron RYTM). And while lesser musicians may sound like some demented chimpanzee, high on codeine, wearing a lab coat and twisting knobs, when they release a modular synth record, Aphex Twin’s flow is never boring or redundant. He shows up with several decades of DJing, production, and song-writing instincts under his thumb, making this a thrilling, adrenalized ride over 2 sides and 20 minutes.

“no stillson 6 cirk” pulses and hums like a power plant, to kick things off, perhaps making you think you’re in for another dreary, droney modular synth record. Flat, hard kick drums come in like Napoleon’s Army a few moments in, however, quickly letting us realize that this is an entirely different beast. Beats never rest for long, toppling and diving like bomber pilots, subdividing the beat like Zeno’s Paradox. Industrial FX – all laser squiggles and dot matrix printers.

electronic music album review

“no stillson 6 cirk mix2” is like the A side’s drop shadow, working with the same pallet of burning bass synth and hard-hitting, intricate kick drums. The original is pepped up with some crisp snares and hi-hats, perhaps inspired by some of the forward-looking grime/footwork Aphex Twin played during his set at Day For Night Festival.

Although many internet hipsters have been playing at being unimpressed with this release, there are two very clear takeaways from this release, for musicians, producers, DJs, journalists, and fans alike:

  1. Nearly ANYTHING can sound good, when yr source material is quality.
  2. You NEED to hone yr instincts. No one creates in a vacuum.

For the longest time, electronic music was as formulaic as can be, during an era i like to call “the dubstep wars”. Following the first wave of UK dubstep, the hauntological kind. the militant possibilities of military-grade bassweight and irregular rhythms was quickly subsumbed into “monsterstep” or “brostep”, delivering drop after drop after drop, like an Adderall overdose.

For those of us who’ve never recovered from the ecstatic epiphanies of the dancefloor, or the utopian, futurist principles of electronic music, this was a major letdown, in a big way. I, for one, didn’t leave the house for nearly a decade. Good thing i had all those old books and movies to get me through. But with people like Aphex Twin, with decades of experience and skill, as well as a wild, wyrd, wooly passion for the un-commercial and non-commonplace, they kept pushing the gamut, bending and tearing forms and structures to create new, abstract, wondrous shapes, both heavenly and terrible.

You’ll see what i mean, when you hear the snares come on like high tide, a few minutes into the A Side. It’s an unexpected rush, coming at an unusual place, that brings to mind a desolate beach at sundown, with perhaps power plants, gleaming chrome, and glass in the distance, instead of just trying to sound like “Tech House @ 144 bpm”.

We need electronic music, or music in general, to keep evolving, keep shifting, keep telling new stories and reflecting the world we’re living in, we’ve got to find new structures (and new ways to dance to those edifices).

Aphex Twin FB
Warp Records FB

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