I’m pretty sure there is a large percentage of Aphex Twin fans that would hasten to call themselves fans of “dance music,” per se. I know this is true because I count myself in this number. I have always found it difficult to connect with more than a handful of electronic artists or producers or DJs or whatever you want to call them. One reason is that I dance quite badly. Another is that, while dance music is perfect for uniting people on a dance floor, it seems sort of distant and impersonal in any other setting.
Aphex Twin has long been — for me at least — a glaring exception to this rule. I may not understand dance music, but I can well recognize genius, and Richard D. James is a genius. Syro is his first release (as Aphex Twin) in 13 years and it delivers in every conceivable way. The first track, “minipops 67,” wiggles right up to you and says ‘hello,’ beats dripping out of the speakers like maple syrup, hints of robotic life forms conversating within — it sounds perfectly fresh and new and yet would also be completely at home nestled somewhere into 1995’s I Care Because You Do. James is a stylist, first and foremost, an innovator who seems unaffected by, and isolated from, the world around him.
You immediately know when it’s him. His drums always sound different. Those alien voices could only be him (or, as on Syro, his wife and kids). The way he twists and rewires his melodic devices are unlike any other producer in the business. I am a complete novice in this particular genre, yet, even I can understand what separates him from his peers.
He’s funny. There is a lot of humor in James’ music, a lightness and a silliness in all those bleeps and blorps that will make you laugh out loud. It’s part of what makes his music so human in spite of its completely alien construct and technical wizardry. James’ other strength is his magnificent scope. “180db” is a dance floor banger, a whooshing mutant-house cut with face-melting break beats. “aisatsana” is five minutes of drifting piano chords. “circlonT14” plays like R2D2 funk, layering rippling waves of synth under trademark lightning high-hats, opening into a full bloom at the 3:18 mark. There are, quite simply, no rules on Richard’s planet. His music has no boundaries. —Andrew Watson