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Aphex Twin – Syro

Aphex Twin – 'Syro' album review

The electro weirdo is back in business, and as wildly inventive as ever


The trouble with reshaping musical paradigms – as Richard D James did during his late-’90s imperial period with the likes of ‘Windowlicker’ – is that people start expecting you to do it every time you release a record. If you haven’t dropped anything new for a while, the expectation becomes greater still. In the eyes of the casual observer at least, here’s where RDJ finds himself with ‘Syro’.

In fairness, it’s a myth that James turned his back on music after 2001’s ‘Drukqs’. His 2005 ‘Analord’ project was essentially two albums’ worth of prime Cornish acid. Then there was 2007’s ‘Rushup Edge’ – released under the name ‘The Tuss’ but fooling no one. So he hasn’t been bone idle exactly – just not particularly busy.

The very slight disappointment is that ‘Syro’ doesn’t feel like a quantum leap. But that’s where the bad news ends – this is still a brilliant album. Instead of inventing a new Aphex, James has returned to a bunch of different, vaguely familiar personas: lounge Aphex, pervy Aphex, acid nutter Aphex, avant-garde Aphex, silly Aphex and scary Aphex all make appearances. But that doesn’t lessen the jarring shock of the album’s best moments – ultimately, ‘Syro’ reminds us exactly how far James’s imitators are from getting anywhere close to his versatile virtuosity. Sometimes, it can feel as though he’s inventing his own scales, notation and dynamic range. The result is a sound that’s simultaneously brutally inorganic and profoundly haunted: like a cyborg animated by weird West Country folklore.

And that’s what lends his more radiant moments their uncanny heft too – ‘PAPAT4 [155][pineal mix]’ (yes, the titles are typically daft) shares some of ‘Girl/Boy’s’ jouissance and pine-fresh clarity. ‘fz pseudotimestretch+e+3 [138.85]’ writhes and wriggles insanely, like an acid monster sprouting fangs and going feral.

To hear these tracks is to understand why it’s so thrilling to have Aphex Twin back in our lives and to sense that another creative rebirth might not be beyond him. ‘Syro’ feels like a clearing of the decks. Who knows where he might go next?
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