Even after the initial excitement spawned by the relatively short marketing cycle of Syro has been superseded by post-listen discussions, just putting on a new Aphex Twin album still felt strangely surreal.
Opening track Minipops67 doesn’t waste any time to present its “Aphex Twin sound” credentials, establishing the overall sonic sensibility followed by the rest of the album, before taking off on a synth odyssey of its own. This seems to be a working blueprint, as almost every song on Syro is a strange and fickle beast – morphing in genre, shape and intensity over the course of few minutes, exploring a number of hypothetical directions it could go into, before finally settling into a groove of it’s own.
All of the tracks are unpredictable, yet carefully restrained, which may ultimately prove to be the album’s undoing. An abundance of ideas is presented in each song, but that overflowing moment of release which takes the ideas present to their logical conclusions or extremes (hello Windowlicker!) just never happens. Every rhythmic pattern is elegant and detailed, ranging from the plodding hip-hop shuffles on Produk 29 to the flurry chopped-up and stretched snares on PAPAT4, evoking free jazz influences in more than one rhythmic structure. The basslines are equally jagged and free floating, grabbing the attention the instant they appear, but failing to develop much in terms of their relation to the overall song structure. All of the basslines on Syro are classic Aphex Twin, but so mutually interchangeable I imagine every single bassline would fit on any track on the album. In a world where the finer details of sidechain compression and barely audible sine waves has become an art form by itself, the synthetic burps and squelches featured here are underdeveloped to the point of oblivious naiveté which becomes especially obvious after multiple listens. Easily, the winners on this album are the two tracks lacking this fault: one being 180db whose gritty synth textures punctuate the jazz breakbeats crescendoing over a oddball 4/4 techno anthem and the piano-and-fx closing track of the album Aisatsana, a hauntingly beautiful ambient track similar to a Debussy piano sonata played out on a windy meadow surrounded by chirping birds. Another overarching high point for Syro would be the sparing and effective use of vocal samples, no matter whether it’s done for acoustic or narrative purposes. On CIRCLONT6A Aphex Twin does a masterful job of combining low-pitched and stretched out male vocals with spoken word female vocals (in Russian) over the album’s most sinister and powerful bassline. The vocoder-work is also nicely done, although a bit superfluous and outdated at times.
One must observe that a lot of the tracks presented on Syro sound like musical artifacts left over from the production of Drukqs, and while starting where the last album left off is a good idea in terms of showcasing an artist’s evolution, when the last album was released 13 years ago one must wonder if there is any room left for Richard to evolve into without repeating – let alone reinventing – himself. Part of the Aphex Twin appeal has always been his uncanny ability to musically distance himself from all the current electronic trends and never partake in the rules or the ethos of any scene and genre in particular…. and for a while it really worked. However, the landscape of today’s electronic scene features an abundance of heterogenic and downright weird experimentation with labels such as PAN, Tri Angle, Hyperdub, 50 Weapons, Leisure System and L.I.E.S (among others) now commanding a historically unprecedented attention in both the club scene and the home-listening electronic music market (it’s a thing!), while essentially cultivating a unique and recognizable sound palette paired with an outsider approach to electronic music unafraid of constant sonic mutation.
If anything, it’s hard to top the short Death Grips stint as the most controversial music act in the world in terms of guerilla marketing mayhem, deep web shenanigans and even personal eccentricity. The defiant attitude and outsider perspective that was once a rare and singular characteristic of Aphex Twin has become not only been replicated and improved over the years, it has also become a paradigm that new generations of electronic music producers and fans have come to internalize and subsequently built into the foundations of today’s electronic scene.
The era of Aphex Twin being Aphex Twin and everybody else being everybody else is officially over and the only real question left isn’t whether Syro is a good album (it is), but rather whether the world still needs Aphex Twin to be Aphex Twin.
My estimate would be – it doesn’t. But if Richard is ready to stand on equal ground with everybody else and continue releasing quality cuts, the world would always be ready for more Aphex Twin music, even if the world being ready for more Aphex Twin seems to be a slippery slope situation to begin with.
Minipops 67 (Source Field Mix) 4:47
Xmas_Evet10 (Thanaton3 Mix) 10:31
Produk 29 5:03
4 Bit 9d Api+e+6 4:28
Circlont6a (Syrobonkus Mix) 6:00
Fz Pseudotimestretch+e+3 0:58
Circlont14 (Shrymoming Mix) 7:21
Syro U473t8+e (Piezoluminescence Mix) 6:32
Papat4 (Pineal Mix) 4:18
S950tx16wasr10 (Earth Portal Mix) 6:01