I stopped regularly buying records a long time ago. I’ve become in recent years pretty disillusioned with music in general, and albums in particular. Most of the music released these days in that format seems anodyne to me, airbrushed, pointless, gallingly rehashed; even hip-hop, which is my big love, bores the fuck out of me in its current incarnation. Yes, I still keep my ear to the ground for songs here and there, remixes and electronic tracks mostly, but I’m quite happy not to hear anything new for months or even years at a time. It’s quite sad in a way, because I never thought this would happen to me; I was once so passionate about music, all different kinds of music.
So, bearing in mind how detached I am from the current music scene, it is not surprising that I had heard nothing regarding Syro, the first Aphex Twin album for over a decade. I wasn’t aware until yesterday that it is about to drop, that you can, y’know, actually listen to it right now on youtube. What is surprising, when you consider how apathetic I have become, is how excited this news made me. I didn’t think I was still capable of feeling that kind of excitement for a new release. I felt like Scrooge throwing open his windows on Christmas morning. Of course, none of that would mean anything if the album is rubbish. I mean, Richard James is what, 43 now? Sure, he made some great records in the nineties, but what does that mean in relation to a record coming out in 2014? If anything it likely means he has already shipped his best stuff, has run out of great ideas.
Like fuck he has.
Syro is, well, more brilliant than I had even dared to hope. I can only compare my experience of listening to it to somehow convincing Scarlett Johansson to agree to go out on a date, getting lucky, and then finding that, yeah, actually she’s great in the sack.
I’ve never reviewed something that is without words. I write about books mostly and obviously they are all words, but even the music I have written about has a language on which I can focus. Syro is, however, pretty much entirely instrumental. So, how do you articulate the language of sound? In all honesty, I am out of my comfort zone and out of ideas. I want to somehow express how much pleasure the opening track, Minipops 67, gave me, but am at a complete loss. I could compare it to Kraftwerk, which, yeah, it sorta resembles [that may seem like a lazy comparison but his work has never struck me as like the German pioneers before]. It also reminds me of Boards of Canada, who were themselves, I would imagine, influenced by Aphex Twin’s previous work. But none of that is really saying anything. So let me try this: a few years ago I was in car with my girlfriend driving across the pennines late at night. The roads along that route are particularly treacherous; you feel most of the time that if you take a corner too quickly you’ll skid off and fall to your death. It was foggy that night too. I was, quite literally, in fear of my life. And yet it was all strangely beautiful, because the car’s fog lights were on, and there was no-one else on the road, and there I was with a girl I loved, both of us seemingly enveloped in a kind of cloud. Anyway, that is what Minipops 67 puts me in mind of. I wish I could go back and put the song on the cd player that night.
As for the rest of the album, the standard is pretty much maintained. I’ve only listened to Syro through two or three times so it’ll take a while for me to be able to get my head around it all, to become accustomed to all the tracks; only then, really, will I be able to judge them. I’m sure after a period of adjustment I will value some more than others. What I can say is that the songs, taken as a whole, are less frantic than those from James’ heyday, or at least those from his best album, Richard D James; there’s less drum’n’bass or drill’n’bass or whatever you want to call it. The sound is warmer, synthier, bass-heavier [although there were, of course, plenty of synths and bass on previous records]. Perhaps PAPAT4 is the one song that most closely resembles the recognisable Aphex Twin sound [as I recognise it, anyway; whatever that means]. I will also say that there is nothing on the record as vital, or alien-sounding, as Windowlicker or Vordhosbn, both of which blew my mind when I first heard them. Syro is so welcome though. I dunno. I can’t really do it justice at the moment. I am kinda running on adrenaline. But that, that adrenaline, boy have I missed that.