A Call From The Weird Fringes: Aphex Twin's 'Syro'
In music these days, the fastest-moving genre is electronic dance music, or EDM. It's the sound most people associate with rave culture and artists like Skrillex. But 20 years ago, Richard D. James — better known as Aphex Twin — was making a very different kind of electronic music, as heard on landmark releases like 1994'sSelected Ambient Works Vol. II.
This week, James is back with Syro, the first new Aphex Twin album in more than a decade — making him a bit like an Unfrozen Caveman DJ, returning to a changed world. His field of endeavor has exploded commercially and splintered into thousands of subgenres. It's also become more predictable, which is one reason many have awaited his return.
Aphex Twin's early records expanded the lockstep pulse of techno and related rhythms with shadowy, brooding atmospheres. Syro explores similar undercurrents, rendered with a gear head's fanatic attention to detail. In fact, the album artwork includes a list of instruments used in each track.
Where some producers set up a foundational beat and then let it repeat endlessly, Aphex Twin drops in slight changes from one measure to the next. These give the mixes an ear-grabbing element of unpredictability. Syro's cryptically named tracks, like the nine-minute-plus "XMAS_EVE10  [thanaton3 mix]," evolve over time: Riffs pile up on top of each other amid sudden breakdowns and scene changes.
What's striking about the new Aphex Twin is how out of step it is with most of the glitzy mainstream electronic world. Its vast, richly textured dreamscapes call from the weird fringe of a genre that used to be nothing but weird fringes. It's possible to dance to this music, but you can just get lost inside it, too.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.