As any music fan knows, when a musician with a classic status returns after a period of inactivity, there is a great deal of pressure and the usual disappointment often creates cynicism. Naturally, it’s hard not to be excited about an upcoming album from one of your favourite artists, but ultimately this hampers the perception upon listening: the album is never what you want or expect. Aphex Twin (ever the contrarian) manages to buck such a trend.
Whereas in most cases success in these cases is often merely due to nostalgia, Richard D. James has created an album that sounds perfectly innovative yet still like his old self. The ambient style of his early work is expertly mixed with the IDM that began to categorise his more recent output. It is nearly impossible to point out two bars on the album that are the same, Aphex brings in new sounds at every moment in his songs, each progressing to a finite and finalised point. While there are no extremes like that found in tracks such as “Come to Daddy” or “Peek 824545201”, the relative tameness creates a melodic and precise work.
Richard embraces many styles throughout the sixty minutes: breakbeat, drum ‘n’ bass, piano-work like that of “Avril 14th”, and thus manages to produce that “Aphex Twin” sound that has inspired numerous artists. When Richard was making music in the 90’s, one word that was thrown around to describe his work was “futuristic”, and yet twenty years later, James has still not reached that future. Still ahead of its time, the music beats and pulses as if organic, independent of a creator. Momentum flows throughout yet there is a certain mischievousness within: songs stutter, moan and flail yet still sounds incredibly intentional. One can never reach the bottom of the many layers involved on a first listen, thus a partnership the between work and listener is required. This complicated style is never irritating however, but pleasant and exciting; songs often reach a peak through the conglomeration of different parts into a singular whole.
The album is left on a beautiful note: a creaking piano ode to his wife Anastasia, his playing still as ever, but giving a chance to collect one’s thoughts. After such a cerebral (yet playful) album, it takes such an alluring ending to truly appreciate what has come before it. Aphex Twin is back, and as strong as ever.