Richard D. James delivers a knotty, cerebral and thrilling late-career gem on his latest EP under the Aphex Twin moniker, Harry Croxford reviews
The past few years have certainly been busy for Richard D. James, electronic pioneer and longstanding Warp Records signee. After a period of relative silence under the Aphex Twin moniker after his 2001 LP release Drukqs, a scant few EPs, singles and compilations surfaced under his AFX, The Tuss, and Caustic Window names. Even then, the latter of those pseudonyms only experienced a release through an unofficial crowd-funded Kickstarter campaign to release the long lost 1994 Caustic Window LP. However, once 2014 rolled around, rumours circulated about a new release eventually confirmed by an Aphex Twin blimp hovering over London – a marvellous spectacle to his cult-like fans – which marked Aphex Twin’s sixth studio album: Syro.
Since then James has been prolific as ever and his most recent release, signified also by a unique advertisement campaign, Collapse EP is perhaps the strongest addition to the Aphex Twin discography since the Richard D. James Album. Where Syro left many generally pleased, it was not an album without its flaws. Certain tracks, especially around the midriff of that album, felt like emaciated filler tracks, a criticism many also expressed with Drukqs, one of the most controversial albums of the Aphex Twin discography. Yet, Collapse EP is a far more succinct record, suffering from none of the ails of those previous releases, Richard D. James has added something truly noteworthy to his monumental series of albums.
Composed of five rhythmically spasmodic tracks, Collapse EP combines the icy synth melodies of songs like ‘Xtal’ and ‘Heliosphan’ from his era-defining LP Selected Ambient Works 85-92 with the rapidly unstable electronic drums of James’ other project, AFX. With the opening track and leading single from the EP, one is transported back to these earlier tracks. However, as James’ has so often shown when he is at his best, ‘T69 Collapse’ is in no way derivative. The subtle and relatively quiet synth melody at the beginning of the track is immediately offset by an increasingly cacophonous drum line. With unpredictable kicks and snares bouncing between both stereo channels, the listener pales in their attempt to keep up with this erratic piece. Typified around the 1:55 mark in which both the main melody and drum line shift radically, as James takes us further into the depths of this fractured, harsh, yet sublimely captivating electronic soundscape.
This ever-surprising and dynamically evolving ethos extends to the later tracks also, with the heavy bass and drums of ‘1 st 44’ sounding very much like a UK garage or grime track (with a distinctive Aphex Twin unpredictability). If a choice was to be made, though, about the track that encapsulates the EP’s sound as a whole, ‘MT1 t29r2’, would be that track. With a melody line straight out of a charming music box, assailed repeatedly by a rave-inspired drumline of increasing intensity, it is hard to not be impressed by how each drum interacts and reacts to another. In this masterful display of James’ acute attention to detail, the resulting effect is one of granulated, irregular, texture. This textured approach results in an inability for the listener to discern any sort of consistent rhythmic pattern, an effect that lasts throughout much of the EP. With ‘abundance10edit[2 R8’s, FZ20m & a 909]’ and ‘pthex’ sharing in bulging synths and abrupt changes that prove to be both shocking yet intensely captivating, rounding off the EP with such tact and expertise, traits that have defined and still define the Aphex Twin moniker. When listening to Collapse EP, you get a sense for the enthusiasm and ecstasy James appears to derive from creating these erratic tunes, and I for one wish only to share this revelry in whatever he decides to do next.
‘Collapse EP’ is available now via Warp Records.