1. This is somewhere between the initial views of failure and the revisionist views of misunderstood genius; if you don’t have time or patience for more than one thousand words, here you go: it’s a B+. Others, onwards.
2. There are plenty of things I enjoy about this record:
~The melody of “Jynweythek.” The album’s second-best on that front.
~The sheer unease of the bass pulse and synth sonar of “Gwely Mernans,” which I was initially going to call a time-waster as it doesn’t do anything with its 5-minute runtime that it couldn’t do in 3, but shit, it sounds so good, I don’t mind having my time wasted in that case.
~The groove of “Bbydhyonchord” – you can dance to this one.
~The synth of “Cock/ver 10” that comes in at the 1:10 mark to provide breathing space on one of the most physically bracing songs on the record. It’s not radiant, or vibrant, or even all that melodic – it’s just a well-deserved texture, which, given the drum programming on that song, effectively becomes something beautiful to behold.
~The feeling of externalism of the melody of “Avril 14th,” that it could go on forever, famously sampled by someone or something other.
~”Mt Saint Michel + Saint Michaels Mount.” One could argue that, broadly speaking, Aphex Twin traded his capacity for tone and tune in favour of drum programming throughout Drukqs; this one is a synthesis of both, as on “4” or “Windowlicker.” And in contrast to “Cock/ver 10,” the synth melody here is just that – a melody, and this one glows; to say nothing of the female vocals in the back half. The most realized song on the album: a constant state of flux in fast-forward.
~”Gwarek 2”, which expands the unease of “Gwely Mernans” to full-blown paranoia. Actually, surprisingly, what this one springs to mind is the John Zorn of Spillane’s title track as imagined by DNA: the revolving door of sounds, the scream of a woman, the bass chords of a piano, the skittering of nightmarish beasts moving closer towards you.
~The groove from the bass-line and the loud smack of the percussion on “Orban Eq Trx 4.” And these seven highlights are all sequenced one after the other on the record, and demonstrate Aphex Twin at his best and most varied: the tones, the rhythms, the grooves; he was one of the best because he was one of the most varied.
~When everything dissolves on “Meltphace 6” (around the 1:52 mark-onwards) before rising (at the 2:30 mark) into the purple hew of certain sunsets.
~The mercurialness of “Ziggomatic 17”, which seems to change from drill and bass to temporary moments of rest at the drop of a hat. The effect is like the chase scene, where the protagonist is sprinting for their lives from “Gwarek 2″, ducks around the corner for a moment, thinking they’ll survive, only to have the chase start up again.
~The feeling of loneliness evoked in the rests throughout “Nanou2”: more spoken in what’s between the notes than the notes themselves.
~And of course, ”COME ON YOU CUNT, LET’S HAVE SOME APHEX ACID!!!!!” (“And Darkness was all over the Face of the Deep. And We Said ‘Look at the fucker Dance.'”)
That’s a single disc worth of good/great stuff, so what I guess I’m saying is that this is one of those double albums that could’ve been better served a single album.
3. For the record, this is the sort of album that I should absolutely love, the sort where the flaws are readily apparent but can be brushed over because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Exhibit A: The Beatles’ White Album, which I’ve long been convinced is the best Beatles album because the single disc you could create is better than any of the other single-disc Beatles albums, and this is the important bit for you White Album haters, and what remains is still pretty fucking good. Other examples: 69 Love Songs (which had a lot of useless stuff like “Roses” and “Abigail, Belle of Kilronin” so Stephen Merritt could fulfill his concept fetish); Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness or Tusk, which I can’t imagine in any other incarnation except as double albums; Wowee Zowee. Or most recently, Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, which I initially viewed as a lower-tier Kanye West album and now regard as one of his best. That one was sometimes so casual that people criticized it as “unfinished” even though almost all of its songs sounded so meticulously laboured over. And because of the flaws, I find this one more interesting than I do Selected Ambient Works 85-92, or Vol 2, or Syro. Not necessarily better than any of those (though better than Syro), but more interesting.
But to be clear: this one isn’t a gestalt. This one is its parts, the best of which I mentioned in the first half of the review. And interspersed among those parts are complete uselessness: the coda of “Cock/ver 10”? Does nothing that the rest of the song didn’t do better. “Aussois?” A waste of time. Ditto “Bit4.” “Lornaderek?” A birthday message from Richard’s parents that I’ve seen praised as “personal,” even though it isn’t revelatory about the artist, nor at all musically interesting (as opposed to the “Richard?” call from “4”), in other words, useless to everyone except the intended recipient. And fine, those don’t amount to much lost minutes anyway. Worse is that some of the long ones aren’t much to shout about either: I get absolutely nothing out of some of the other erratic tracks like “54 Cymru Beats” or “Taking Control”, which don’t have the synthesis of tone and percussion as the previously mentioned “Cock/ver 10” or “Mt Saint Michel + Saint Michaels Mount” or even “Vordhosbn.” (Though I will note that the middle section of “Afx237 V7” is clearly the basis for LCD Soundsystem’s “Disco Infiltrator.”)
And shit, am I the only one who gets a bit irked every time Erik Satie and John Cage (albeit less so on this one) get pulled into the conversation? Yes, he emulates the odd chords and wintry feel of Satie on “Strotha Tynhe,” “Kesson Dalef,” “Father,” and “Petiatil Cx Htdui”, and he tinkers at a prepared piano by way of Cage to varying degrees of success. But are we forgetting that Satie was a lot more than odd chords and wintry feel? Highlighted: only “Avril 14th” is close to Satie. (Actually, it’s easy to see why Aphex Twin gravitated to Satie, given both artists were eccentric and their music was by turns, humourous, cold, transcendent). I get the feeling that the people who praise the Satie-inspired works here haven’t heard Satie beyond the Gymnopedies or Gnossiennes, if at all. And that’s a travesty of people wanting the sophistication implied by classical music without having to hear classical music. (Not that I’m beyond reproach, of course, having heard little beyond the big composers.) And as mentioned, I’m no fan of John Cage, but I think Cage fans would probably scoff at “Ruglen Holon” when a fully-fleshed “Suite for a Toy Piano” is available. Stuff like those, plus “Btoum-Roumada” and “Qkthr”, which are complete inconsequential organ pieces that don’t stand on their own nor function as contrast pieces (as “Jynweythek” and “Strotha Tynhe” and “Avril 14th” do), aren’t melodically or harmonically successful. And if they provide scope to Drukqs, they do so in the most ham-fisted way possible.
4. In some ways, this is sort of like a Bizarro version of the Velvet Underground’s Loaded, an album that rejected that artist’s experimentation seen in the just-ended decade that preceded it in favour of something conventional (by order of the label). Except this one rejects Aphex Twin’s conventions in favour of experimentation. I’m not denying the experimentation; just the successes of those experiments.
5. I quoted Infinite Jest earlier in this review, but this isn’t Aphex Twin’s Infinite Jest (In terms of length and dispersed transcendence? Probably Selected Ambient Works Vol 2. In terms of magnum opus? Probably Richard D. James Album). This is his The Pale King, which was also its parts.