November 29, 2001

Organized Noise

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Five years is a long time for an artist to go without releasing an album, but from the sounds of his new double album drukqs, Aphex Twin has used that time to expand the breadth of his music. Ranging from what sounds like titanium bolts being put in a blender, to two-minute piano sonatas, to an answering machine recording of his parents wishing him a happy 28th birthday (on the track “Lornaderek”), Richard James covers the three styles of music he is best known for: ambient, acid beats, and just plain strange. But here lies the 30-track album’s weakness — it feels as if Aphex Twin threw absolutely everything he has been working on for the past four years onto the album, with little thought as to where he wants to take us.

In general, these percussion-based tracks have less melody intertwined in them compared to the Richard D. James Album. “54 Cymru Beats” is by far the most polished song, with barebones melodies mingling with lightning-fast drum beats and electronic bleeps and bloops. But after this energizing song comes “Btoum-Roumada,” which features a single calming organ melody line. “Meltphace 6” is a return to a stripped-down melody pushed along by a driving beat, all blending together perfectly with singing voices and bizarre electronic noises. Aphex Twin tries his hand at mixing up voices just beyond recognition, to make the listener strain to understand what the original sample said. For example, “Afx237 V7” starts with random voice samples stretched out and remixed, introducing the metal pingings that build the track.

While retaining the frenzied drum loops, the ominous melody of “Vordhosbn” guides the song as it progresses to a climax where the beats begin to overlap with such complexity that the song delightfully threatens to collapse. Aphex Twin’s composing talent is evident throughout the album, but especially on “Gwarek 2,” on which a singer’s melody is hinted at within the songs electronic melody and even in the synthesized percussion.

Unfortunately, I do not hear the same genius in the calmer ambient tracks as in the acid electronica tracks. Gone from James’ style are the innovative, playful sounds found on Windowlicker’s masterful track “Nanou”. The tracks “Hy A Scullyas Lyf A Dhagrow” and “Ruglen Holon” are attempts at recreating “Nanou,” but both just come off as cheap imitations. About one-fifth of the entire album consists of simple piano compositions. While this demonstrates that Richard James has serious talent as a musician, the constant alternating from intelligent dance electronica to classical music never allows the listener to settle into the album; I was always either in the mood for one style or the other, forcing me to constantly search for the tracks I wanted to hear, instead of listening to the album continuously.

The entirety of drukqs consists of intelligent dance music hits smothered by beautiful but distractingly calming ambient work. Switching back and forth made me agree with the album’s single obscene comment, from “Father:” “Come on you ‘unt, lets ‘ear some Aphex acid!” Each song, taken individually, shows Aphex Twin is still the master of innovative electronica, continuing to explore new frontiers of noise.

Archived article by Eric Miller