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Aphex Twin’s “Syro” could just be more of the same

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Richard D James’ latest album “Syro,” under his most popular pseudonym Aphex Twin, comes with high expectations. A giant in many genres of electronic music, James’ early work with ambient techno and drum ‘n bass music has created standards many contemporary DJs strive to meet. ”Syro” is James’ first release as Aphex Twin in 13 years.
Listeners may be surprised that “Syro” sounds almost like a direct continuation to Aphex Twin’s 2001 album, “drukQs,” since James gradually worked to produce the album for more than a decade. Some tracks sound like they were actually produced in 1998 and James had forgotten about them. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, and fans of Aphex Twin will find this album solid in keeping with the ambient yet slightly violent and aggressive sound that has become the British DJ’s signature.
New fans who are not as familiar with this brand of techno may approach “Syro” with more caution, and could potentially find the calculated and minimal arrangements in the songs somewhat underwhelming compared to boisterous acts like Zedd, Dead Mau5 or NERO.
The opening track, “minipops 67,” is a fast, spastic romp with James flexing his drum ‘n bass muscles with a quick and crunchy beat, featuring ethereal piano synths layered underneath. James, a virtuoso in distorting vocals, blends the synths into a low male voice to create a haunting melody. This change of pace makes the song resemble arrangements by The Dust Brothers, circa 1999.
James follows this low, guttural and bass-heavy theme with the next track, “XMAS_EVE10.” The track includes a pulsing bass line, and sounds like a gritty piece of classic techno complete with bright synths and chimes. The chimes give the sense that James composed this track as a hyper futuristic Christmas song to play in a department store in 3088. Near the song’s end, James pulls the synths into the foreground of the mix.
James does not give all the songs on the album time to fully mature. The seventh track, “fz pseudotimestretch+e+3,” is barely a minute long and consists mainly of James stretching and squishing a sound bite of a man’s voice that was featured on the previous track, building a melody reminiscent of something that might play in a hospital waiting room.
The track “CIRCLONT14” has mysterious and creepy keyboard progressions that build into a jittering, spasming bass loop. This, like “CIRCLONT6A,” sounds like it would be more appropriate on the soundtrack to a racing game on PlayStation 1.
The tracks definitely have a sense of “futuristic music” unique to the late 1990s and early 2000s, and for Aphex Twin, it works wonderfully.
Only months before releasing “Syro.” one of James’ earliest albums surfaced on the web. The album, which was produced by James in the mid90s under the pseudonym “Caustic Window,” only had four pressings, and was for sale by an anonymous record collector for over $13,000. A Kickstarter was created in response, and raised over $65,000 for the record. Digital copies were made and distributed to the various backers.
“Syro” is an interesting beast. While definitely steeped in James’ past musical styling, the album will be a celebrated addition to Aphex Twin’s discography, but likely not to the extent of albums like the “Ambient Works” LPs or “…I Care Because You Do.”

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