Music | Album Review: Aphex Twin

Lurking like an android shark in the fathomless gloom of the Deep Web is a creature whose emergence has been foretold by UFO and urban hieroglyph. The robotic beast that ascends from the internet’s seabed is SYRO, Aphex Twin’s first album in 13 long years of anticipation. Finally, Richard D. James reinstates his title as the Godhead of electronica – this is his Second Coming.

His aura fuses classical myth and legend with something incomprehensibly futuristic. He is an Orphean figure who translates the essence of any classic sci-fi narrative into its sonic equivalent – just over an hour of chillingly dystopian yet uncannily danceable songs. (Don’t even try to decipher their names; James speaks his own cyber slang). Surely these mini electronic masterpieces could only have been programmed with the aid of a time machine. He is comparable to Kurt Vonnegut’s hero Billy Pilgrim: brave, elusive and bewilderingly insightful. No one is as deviant. No one is as brilliant.

SYRO is a frenetic passage through the most seismic and mystical forms of ambient electronica. In setting this MP3 alien free, you’re teleported at light speed to a post-space-age world of fractured visions and eerie, affected language. Engulfing, satiny synths and intricate, circuit-board melodies are instantly recognisable as Aphex Twin.

To what planet has he been? What has he seen beyond our sublunary realm? I’m not sure if I want to believe that this level of genius is possible among Homo sapiens. Yet, at the same time, one can detect traces of our own world – a world which is increasingly unfamiliar: the album’s title is perhaps a left-field nod to the West’s involvement in Syria; a woman’s broken voice gossips about antics in the club and a “fucking whore”; and the record’s closing number ‘aisatsana’ (an anagram of Anastasia) is an intensely tender and reflective piano piece that we may imagine to be written for an influential woman in James’ life – a human touch to end an astonishing, alien tour de force.

Oliver Walkden

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