Aphex Twin is a singular voice in the dance music world. He has had a tremendous impact on the music industry, influencing popular and underground artists alike. In recent years, he has been lauded for his idiosyncratic brand of electronica. It’s kind of hip to like him now, but I seem to recall reading a very harsh review of Drukqs (his 2001 2-disc masterpiece) in Rolling Stone, at the time of its release. He has always been little-understood, in my opinion, and remains so today.
Taking us back to the good old days, Ben Beaumont-Thomas at the Guardian describes his new album as “unlistenably irritating”, at times. He describes diskhat1 as being “like a steampunk viscount prancing around and poking you in the ribs.” What in the holy hell is that supposed to mean? He decrys white artists who release what are essentially “rap instrumentals.” I mean, how can a musician justify releasing an entire album without a discernable human voice to make us sing along. And we all know that breakbeats come from rap, right?
Some can’t appreciate the voice of music itself. Reviews like this make me think Aphex is in familiar territory, which is that of an avantgarde producer, tossing grenades into the music industry at large.
This album is absolutely on par with prior Aphex tracks on Drukqs. Many of these songs sound quite similar to the John-Cage-esque prepared piano pieces therein. I believe you could mix together the tracks from Syro and Computer Controlled Instruments, and end up with something in the vain of an updated Drukqs. He’s simply refined his stylistic tendencies, dropped the re-triggered drum and bass, and programmed some robots to carry out his acoustic experiments. Robots! If we can’t count on Aphex Twin to do stuff like this, who can we count on?
Yes, Richard D James has been hard at work, constructing machines to carry out his bidding. In Drukqs, James toyed with acoustic sounds, such as cymbals, plucked strings, and machine gears. In Computer Controlled, he adds a drum set, strange vibrating metal plates, and the unidentifiable. On top of that, these new computer controlled contraptions can render James’ famous erratic percussion. This kind of IDM-type rhythm construction has never been brought into the real world as it is here.
A beautiful solo piano piece — piano un10 it happened — also helps fill out the album. It is reminiscent of the kind on Drukqs and Syro, though perhaps not reaching the heights of Avril 14th. James’ machines hammer out extra-human piano traversals as well — such as in the 9 second track disk aud1_12 — which are quite cool.
Some people will never understand this kind of experimentation. Some people don’t understand the joy of stripped down, atonal piano pieces, and syncopated beats, executed by robots. That’s okay. But don’t claim its Aphex who is dropping the ball. He’s the same as ever.