Aphex Twin – Syro (Warp, 2014)

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For an artist that has been scarcely seen or heard from in the music world for the past 7 years, and not produced an album for 13 years under his main Aphex Twin alias, Richard James has set the Internet on fire with the surprising revelation of his hiatus breaking newest release Syro. Built out of a Frankenstein-ian collection of largely older material and more modern pieces of as-yet-unknown age, it’s an album that has certainly cleaved opinions of fans that have been clamouring for years for new material.

The opening duet of “minipops 67” and “XMAS_EVET10” have drawn criticism for both being tracks that have been circulating the Internet for years now, ever since their first live performances in 2007 and 2010 respectively; “where’s the new content?”, I hear the ingrates cry. Their modernity as compared to some of the other pieces in the album is clear though, with “minipops” focusing down on unusually Pop-centric sensibilities in its warped vocal lines and tinkling, Hip-Hop reminiscent piano sequences supplementing the playful, retro synth tickles that gently waft the track forwards. “XMAS_EVET10” meanwhile is a deliciously dark and twisting roadmap of Richard’s recent life and one of the finest displays of his emotional baggage that is referenced across the record, opening to squelching 303s and sad, detuned piano lines , desperately trying to climb out of its repressed hole in the pseudo-dance sequences of self-appeasing basslines at the 4 minute mark, before plateauing and outriding the recent instability in his life to settle into its habitual rhythms.

The emotional chaos of Richard’s life across this 13 year gulf can be found nearly everywhere on the album actually; “180db_” tries to suppress the memory of recent hardships as it blots the early album with its incongruous and aggressive pulses of distorted noise, staggering and buffeting in the middle of the dancefloor, the skittering lights the bobbing heads and hands and strobing light show burying reality for a brief moment. Later in the album the madly titled “s950tx16wasr10”, supposedly one of the tracks titled by his kids, alludes to the the difficulties and fear of raising children, a cathartic pinnacle of insane bpm Jungle beats brushing the edge of the unknown as it rises out of tempered, restrained instrumentation into a battlefield of experimental electronica. Precursor “PAPAT4″is another piece that raises the game as the album progresses, bringing out rapidfire Acid synth lines and insane breakbeats across the stuttering drum machine, whipping up flurries of anxiously excitable sound with incredible textural detail and nuance but of nauseating speed.

But it’s in a couple of really surprising tracks where I think the rawest content is; the title track “syro u47et8+e” opens to Richard’s wife muttering something in Russian, before slipstreaming into a sort of honeymooning, excitable barrage of funky electro grooves and 70s nostalgia, burdened with LFO bleeps and clipped croonings, troughing with guttural basslines before collapsing near the end in more minimalist, tired, but ultimately satisfied synth grooves that lean on the shimmering warbles of the bright backing drone. Similarly, “CIRCLONT6A” dances away its woes in Acid-cum-Chiptune beats that rise up out of a mire of squelchy 303s, climbing out of a drunken slide of, again, contesting LFO beeps and smeared synth walls with a big fat grin on its face.

But it’s truly the closer that puts the icing on the cake for me, probably because it’s the most surprising part of the entire record; the 5 minute Ambient tangent that unwinds on delicately repeating piano strokes and chirping birdsong of “aisatsana”, or Anastasia spelled backwards (the name of his second wife). It just feels like an oasis of calm and contentedness in a sea of increasingly rising worry and fear and unsureness, a bastion of love and reliability that puts an end to what was an escalating spiral of emotional disarray. It really is disarmingly beautiful, even if you don’t think it’s an appropriate closer.

I’ll be honest, even on the first listen I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this release, and that feeling has only grown with each passing listen. Sure, there’s a bunch of late-album Acid tunes that I don’t think are particularly strong and there’s still something to be desired in the production value department, but this works just incredibly well as a cohesive unit, spanning emotional multitudes (and literal time) with a surprising amount of variety, and ultimately finding a resolution in its end; this is an album that brings a little bit of late 90s Electronic charm into 2014 for the fans that have waited patiently for so long, and what a fantastic return to the music world it is.

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Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus Seven (2013)

First release of the experienced electronic artist Daniel Lopatin on the exclusive Warp label, R Plus Seven.

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I’ve never been an OPN man personally; every album of his that I’ve heard has always been a confused jumble of sounds and ideas; piercing, emotionally deficient electronic/ambient that meanders along at its own weird pace. It was especially obvious in his collaborative album last year with Tim Hecker Instrumental Tourist, where Hecker’s neat, exacting dreamscapes collided disharmoniously with Lopatin’s crazed and illogical wafflings, dragging the entire album down in a confused haze of half-completed jams. I didn’t, therefore, have high hopes for this new album, but as it turns out I’ve found myself progressively falling in love with it.

Opener “Boring Angel” introduces itself on a bed of organ drone, something which makes its way into the fray on occasion throughout the album. Carefully it builds up, spreading its wings with synth arpeggios that suddenly jump in tempo and start strobing. It’s certainly far from boring as the track unwinds itself, slowly phasing out the electronic melodies and reverting back to the blissful organ ambience from the start. It moves a little awkwardly (admittedly this is a leak so there are some possible faults) into the tropical “Americans”, and it’s like something lifted out of a Secede album. Flashes and flutters of MIDI samples weave in and out of the mix, children’s voices and “ahhhhh”s propelled with jovial percussion, before the track bottoms out in the middle and grinds along in a rising haze of dark drone and glitch beats where it once again changes track and decides to return to the lightweight sampling from its start, with crazed and syncopated percussion fighting for its chance to be heard in a brilliant closing statement.

“He She” moves into somewhat more menacing territory during its 1:34 duration, cruising along at a relatively unadventurous pace before finally cutting off into “Inside World”. Some might find the sickeningly increasing frequency of MIDI samples here somewhat unappealing, but its quiet ambience interrupted with bursts of sporadic samples are like heartbeats or breaths of life into the track, introducing currents of music and trying to revive the dying organism. The disjointed snippets of violins, voices and songs are like the intermittent firings of neurons bridging and remembering, trying to reignite and restart themselves.

As we reach the mid album one of the better tracks appears, “Zebra”. A semblance of rhythm finally appears in this quasi-EDM piece with its strong synth attacks and smeared vocal cries. It comes and goes, cycling through these glitchy riffs and the more drone focused periods of calm, but there’s never a crossover; like the zebra’s stripes it’s always black and white, the delineation between dance and ambient, between calm and energetic, is a strong line in the sand. Interestingly it appears that calm wins out, as for most of the latter part of the track the vigourous electronica dies away and low-key ambience takes over.

This respite of calm thoughtfulness continues on in the especially quiet and introspective “Along”, cruising along effortlessly on a bed of unobtrusive drone for its first half and only slightly creeping out of its shell around 3 minutes in as chimes and panpipe samples cut through, and snippets of birdsong and water drips float in alongside. Again it has a strong Secede vibe to it, and almost a Balam Acab-esque attitude towards the very end as we get a few dark beats in the fray. But this peacefulness doesnt last long as we’re thrown right back into the deep end with chaser “Problem Areas”. Possibly the most driven piece of the album so far it sustains a repetitive wet synth riff going throughout, tacking on those MIDI vocal glitches and other spurious chunks of electronica as and when before flatlining into a wall of organ drone.

“Cryo” makes sure we have something to cool down to before the final two tracks, which is most definitely necessary. Its cold bells and drone and distal shimmering synths balance that energy out once more alongside thick, slowed down drum beats as we move into penultimate “Still Life”, a dark and oppressive track. It’s hard to get a bearing on what exactly OPN is trying to put across in any of his pieces really but in this one especially so; sometimes it crawls with a claustrophobic darkness filled with heavy bass beats, other times a more serene attitude is taken with droning vocals and light shimmers of synth. Then out of nowhere in the core of the track is a surprisingly rhythmic sequence of thick percussion and piercing minor key riffs. It’s a bit all over the place to tell the truth.

Finally we get to the last track of the album, and one of my favourites, “Chrome Country”. Its spacious 70’s synth introduction is gorgeous as it’s accompanied by pleasant piano skitterings and the blurry MIDI samples of child vocals, a nice cooldown at the end of a confusing and complex affair. It still feels extremely detailed and introspective though, relishing these moments of quiet as it languishes on intermittent beds of electronic sound, not planning on doing anything extravagant before it bows out to a brief interlude of impassioned organ playing to finally finish the album off where it started.

I guess this turned out somewhat lengthier and less emotionally resonant than I initially anticipated because R Plus Seven, like all of his other albums, still leaves me questioning what I’ve heard and somewhat dubious as to the cold precision of the electronic, and in many ways in a processing state as to the texture and sample barrage I’ve just been subjected to. The short conclusion is that I like this, a lot; it comes across a bit stark and meandering (very meandering at times), but there’s a cheekiness in the balance of energetic sampling and cool drone that makes this album extremely compelling at times as we have to wonder continuously just what he’s going to throw at us next.

Tomorrow’s Harvest – Live Stream Commentary

Ok, so, there are 9 minutes to go before the BoC stream goes live and I’m going to attempt to give something of a running commentary as it goes along. I have the track listing up so I’ll attempt to run with that, provided the track changes aren’t seamless or whatever.

1 minute to go and I’m starting to realise how tired I am; havent slept for 30 hours 😦

Apologies in advance for any grammatical inconsistencies

OH, here we go. Why is nothing happening?!

MUSIC

Gemini

Ok so we open to some synth strings, sounds kinda nice/eerie

Oh wow, ok, some syncopated synths coming in proper now. Dat stereo sound.

Suitably creepy, I like it. Some real rhythms starting to come through now, still sounds a bit distal/faded around the edges. Radio static in the background

Reach For The Dead

Seguing into the next track now? Seems to have faded out. Yep, back now to the already released single. I love this track. Love the percussion in this.

Intro is quite determined and deliberately hard hitting, moves into a more drone dominated phase that has a sort of chilling beauty. It’s almost vocal, like, processed vocals.

Electronic beats coming to a crescendo now in true IDM style

White Cyclosa

-missed

Jacquard Causeway

Ok, 5 minutes later and I’m back. Some people doing some charity gaming shit in my house and leaving literally no bandwidth spare.

Dont think I missed too much, just the end of RFTD/start of White Cyclosa.

Some cool circular beats here, sparkly synths too. Percussion seems to be continuing strong also, as well as being comparatively crisp

Seems to be reaching a crescendo; almost flute like in its delivery these sounds. Really digging this track actually, love the juxtaposition of the strong beats and snares and the wispy, disjointed electronica.

Telepath

Sounds like BoC with some creepy dude counting up and down, heavily processed of course.

Very low key, short and sweet actually.

Cold Earth

Again seems to be more reminiscent of some of their older stuff, at least at the start with the creeping synth drone.

I suppose it still kinda of is, ala Campfire Headphase days in some ways, but again the crispness of the snares/overall percussion is surprising.

Snippets of a girls voice, disjointed. “ORANGE”, anyone? Naww, shucks

Transmisiones Ferox

Well this one is titled creepily…

Did I just hear 1999 being said? Too much reverb to tell.

Oscillating synths again. It feels really similar to old BoC, those sort of tatty edge electronics vaguely present. Don’t quite get the same sense of future nostalgia from this one so far though

Sick Times

Chat’s going crazy, everyone thinks we’re one different tracks? Not sure how that’s possible. Pretty sure I’m in the right here, otherwise I’m fucked.

Got some classic IDM snares going for this one. Sweet build too. MHTRTC throwback with this one, for sure, although much cleaner. Some vocal spoken word fragments, sounds like they’re underwater they’re so incomprehensible.

WHOA, meaty. Chat saying some Dubstep overtones at the end; have to agree. Got pretty heavy

Collapse

Simple, repetitive riff, some weird shit going on in the background. Sounds like someone breathing down a mic.

Dunno what to say about this one, seems like a bit of an interlude. Interesting but eh

Palace Posy

Beginning to further question if I’m at the right track, dont really care at this point.

But what the heck is this. Sounds like something you’d march to almost it’s that driven. Quite an abrupt start unless my internet spazzed out.

Almost touching Techno in its sparsity and slow evolution; kinda cool, getting a bit more light-hearted as time goes by. Something that could almost pass for lyrics appearing too now.

Ok, think the chat’s just running  a little slow, on the correct track. Like the energy of this one though, if a bit inelegant.

Split Your Infinities

Return to quasi-ambience again; still surprised at how forceful so many of the tracks are. Solid basslines, careful snares, repetitive synth riffs. That synth drone seems to be the glue holding it all together really.

Weird how it feels so…I don’t know, energetic? Speedy? And yet they manage to make it feel like the tracks are just endless in runtime (in a good way).

Those processed voices are extremely fucking unsettling on this one, especially since the synth is so sparkling on the outro

Uritual

Everytime I see this track name all I can think is “Urinal”. Hmm.

Seems to have quietened down…a lot.

Minimal electronic buzz, something akin to a house alarm warbling distantly, and very delicate, almost violin-like, synth.

This is absolutely gorgeous, again a really short and sweet track. Could have been plucked right out of Geogaddi

Nothing Is Real

Huh, sounds like a piano has been thrown in the mix; squashed under that lo-fi glaze of course. Pretty decent inclusion really, feels earnest.

More spoken word, feels important this time but I can’t make it out. Loving the simplicity of the tracks though; tricky to pull of creating pieces that are somewhat repetitive with so few elements.

Cheeky bit of birdsong at the end there, nothing like a bit of cliché

Sundown

Oh shit, we’re getting existential.

Stunning opener though; like a boat, on a lake, at night, still waters.

Distilled ambience, sounds pretty dated actually. Very, very reminiscent of Steve Roach ala Dreamtime Return. Check it out kids.

New Seeds

Uh oh, I don’t like where this is going. Kinda glitchy, kinda poppy almost. Is that electric guitar?

Alright, bassline’s come in now, what’s gonna happen next.

Ok this is unconventional but I’m digging this a lot. Tonnes of textures and rhythms here; sounds fun and bouncy. Not bright but eclectic.

Some orchestral vocals coming into the fore now too; dayum this just keeps going and not getting any less good. Cool. Turning a bit melancholic/nostalgic now actually.

Damn. Again kind of disappointed with how they tackle tracks closing. Nice 60’s vibe to the very faint music at the end there though.

Come To Dust

Ahh, not sure if this one can live up to Sundown now, that was some good shit.

Again, lots of energy in those circular, repetitive backing synths, kinda wish they had some evolution to them in at least one of the tracks. Again that huge bassline anchoring the track down.

Eh, nothing special to see here folks, let’s move along.

Semena Mertvykh

Oh christ it’s almost over nooooooooo

Moody opening, going for the Thomas Koner effect, nice (tonnes of glacial sub-bass FYI)

Yep, still pretty moody. Like the dark atmosphere here though, seems like they finally decided to really create an unsettling atmosphere. Some additional synth elements just helping to back the sound up a little bit here now, gently ushering the track along.

Intelligently crafted I must admit

 

Well, lol, turns out I’ve messed up somewhere since that’s the end! And here I was thinking I was ahead, turns out I was behind. Possibly messed up White Cyclosa/Jacquard Causeway when my internet went down so, I apologise. Dunno where else I would have messed up. Still, gives a decent enough vague overview of the album even if the tracks are out. If anyone wants me to correct the post I’ll do it, I’m not anal enough to care right now that it’s slightly out 🙂

EDIT: Semena Mertvykh may actually be the bonus Japanese version track that wasn’t aired tonight, so everything should, should be correct here. My mistake, got the alternate track list.