Aphex Twin, or Richard D. James, one of the most influential figures in electronic music, broke his 13-year streak without an album this September with ‘Syro’.
James changed the course of modern music during the ‘90s with a series of critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums that diverged from typical electronic selections through the use of ambient sounds, vocals without words, and generally unconventional sounds and beats.
Other artists including Radiohead, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Daft Punk have cited him as an influence and inspiration. His music has been featured in commercials put out by the US government, played by the London Sinfonietta, sampled by Kanye West and featured consistently on top lists for music not only for the decade, but of all time.
During the past 13 years without any new music, at least under the Aphex Twin name, James still stood alone with his style. Though many could claim influence from him, his bizarre, looping tracks remained as unique as they were when they were first released. James often cited himself as his sole influence, and the inability of others to follow in his footsteps has only served to strengthen his claim.
It is more than likely that James pulled back from the musical scene so that he could reappear in a much grander fashion. After years of releasing under false names and DJing anonymously, it seems fitting that James showed his logo for the first time in years by flying it above London on the side of a blimp.
So, now that Syro is here, after a wait so long that probably no one in high school knew who Aphex Twin was at the release of his last album, does it live up to to the hype? Well, in a similar fashion to the rest of his releases, James has delivered yet another album that sounds like no one else could possibly have made it.
James’ creative touch is obvious from the start simply from glancing at song titles The album’s 12 tracks all have names derived from the names of the machines James uses, which are all seemingly random combinations of letters, for example: 4 bit 9d api+e+6 [126.6] is a favorite.
But moving past the names, the tracks are just as bizarrely unique. Every song on the album sounds like it came out of a ‘90s time machine even when the sounds and techniques James uses would not have been possible on technology from that era.
Though songs may reach lengths of nearly 11 minutes, they avoid being repetitive, a trait that electronic music now is so often criticized for. The variety of sounds within each track allows each song to stand alone easily, though the overall ambience of the album still holds it together despite the presence of very different sounds.
James has never disappointed with an album under his Aphex Twin name, and Syro will not be the album to break the trend. The album only serves to show how well his signature style has aged, and yet how willing he is to attempt new things even after all the success he has found.