The internet boom of the early 2000’s seemed like the perfect platform for Richard D James’ Aphex Twin persona. Becoming increasingly technical and calculated, Aphex’s albums were a soundtrack for those obsessed with early internet culture in the late ’90’s. However in the blink of eye after releasing 2001’s ambitious Drukqs, the artist known as Aphex Twin was gone. While the electronic music pioneer didn’t quite disappear into obscurity over the past decade, having released work under different monikers, thirteen years is many lifetimes when it comes to the musical landscape in the internet age. Coming out of his cryogenic sleep, Aphex returns with Syro, a work that doesn’t quite pick up where he left off as much as reaffirms us why we’ve missed him. It may not be the revolutionary album some were expecting, but it demonstrates James’ effortless ability to create a fluid, dynamic work encompassing thirty years of dedication to his craft.
Besides creating a massive hype train for the upcoming album, choosing “minipops 67 [120.2]” as the first single gave us a sampler for what to expect throughout the album. Never sticking with one idea too long, the song presents a wide variety of sounds in under five minutes. It also reasserts Aphex’s ability to create catchy melodies from unlikely sources. Wordless vocals here, as well as in the “CIRCLONT” tracks, are stretched out and twisted into a surprisingly catchy groove. As if self-aware of how “minipops 67 [120.2]” would be received, Aphex decides to throw the most challenging track on the album directly after. “XMAS_EVET10 ” maintains the same philosophy of evolution, but stretches it out over ten minutes. Snappy synth notes pair well enough with ephemeral callbacks to James’ early ambient work that make the runtime less of a chore. For the remainder of the first half of Syro we are taken through what has become run-of-the-mill Aphex signatures. And that’s not a slight against the album – only with an artist like Aphex Twin can run-of-the-mill still be so damn enjoyable. Drum patterns pop at a dizzying speed or get our heads bobbing while synthesizers (probably created by James himself) wail and moan only to get chopped and arranged into rhythm at the drop of a hat. The glitchy “180db_ ” maintains its beat with the aid of an audible metronome, creating the urban hustle atmosphere found in many of James’ works. “4 bit 9d api+e+6 [126.26]” perhaps best represents Aphex Twin’s ability to make so many sound clashes ultimately come out so smooth.
“CIRCLONT6A [141.98]” is the point where Syro begins to pick up speed, Pairing with “CIRCLONT14 [152.97]” to create an intensely fast paced and addictive fifteen minute set. A hyperactive synth just won’t sit still on “CIRCLONT6A [141.98]”, flying all over the place while a few chords try to maintain some stability and an absurdly filthy drum beat eggs it on. “fz pseudotimestretch+e+3 [138.85]” comedown from that blur is necessary, as “CIRCLONT14 [152.97]” once again picks up the pace. The slightly more stable structure of this song allows the focus to be placed on the percussion, which rivals Aphex staples such as “To Cure a Weakling Child.” “syro u473t8+e [141.98],” the (somewhat) titular track, offers a nice break from the chaos that has just ensued without letting the album lose steam. The starry synths stand out nicely with a compliment of increasingly hollow and calm backing tracks. The bubbly “PAPAT4 ” will no doubt become a cherished Aphex track as it stays true to its maker’s mark. Two main grooves take turns getting slightly warped over the track’s six minute run time – a blast of snare here, a warbling chord there. “s950tx16wasr10 [163.97]” features a nice break beat that would sit comfortably in the Richard D James track list. A wavy synth stays for most of the track, but the focus is once again placed on how much James can bend your mind with unheard-of sounds and tight percussion. At this point in the album, the energy of even the most diehard listener must be waning. A barrage of beats has been waging war inside your cranium for the better part of an hour, and the craftsmanship of Aphex Twin has been demonstrated to the point of superlative. Only Richard D James isn’t done with you yet.
“aisatsana ” finally makes its appearance closing the album out with a whisper. It’s gorgeous melody broken up by nothing but ambient recording, this track is the perfect comedown from the mania. Previously heard during a live show, played on a piano being swung on a pendulum in true Aphex experimental fashion, “aisatsana ” uses a successful formula of pausing just long enough in between it’s series of notes, creating a dramatic effect. It’s a perfect summation of the craftsmanship of Syro. What the album lacks in pure originality or experimentation, it makes up for in cohesiveness and clever organization. As sacrilege as it may be, there is a lot going on in Syro that no review can truly convey. Any fan of previous Aphex Twin releases can attest to that. When Richard D James gets asked about how he achieved a certain sound, he is frequently at a loss. He uses too much obscure equipment, warps it’s sound, and then mixes it beyond recognition. Similarly, words cannot provide adequate detail for all the quirks contained in the album. It’s what makes diving into these albums so fun for the obsessive music listener. The question will inevitably be asked, “Was this worth the wait?” The answer is yes, although Syro is just that. There’s nothing here to make a non-believer convert to Aphex Twin, yet everything presented will be eaten up by the ravenous fan base.