APHEX TWIN: RICHARD D. JAMES ALBUM (1996)
1) 4; 2) Cornish Acid; 3) Peek 824545201; 4) Fingerbib; 5) Carn Marth; 6) To Cure A Weakling Child; 7) Goon Gumpas; 8) Yellow Calx; 9) Girl/Boy Song; 10) Logon Rock Witch.
Scientists are prejudiced. Due to certain outdated social conventions and academic pressure, their musical interests normally revolve around classical forms, maybe with a few «world music» elements thrown in here and there for diversity's sake. In reality, of course, there is nothing like a good helping of «intellectual» electronic music to accompany the work of a true scientist, be it experimental or theoretical.
Let me put it this way. Every time I try to approach the output of Richard D. James from a «basic human perspective», the result is a total fail. «This stuff kicks ass», «these sounds are gorgeous», «this is damn catchy music», «this tune almost makes me cry» etc. are clichéd definitions that are about as applicable to the output of Aphex Twin as to the output of a seashell when you press it against your ear and start wiggling it around a bit. But once I get to thinkin' things like «Hey, this shit sounds not unlike something you'd expect from coronary flow in the subendocardial vessels during contraction of the ventricular myocardium!», or, «this is just the kind of soundtrack we'd want for that documentary on two non-zero mass neutrino double-beta decay, to drive home the point that the Majorana fermion is its own anti-particle!», it all clicks beautifully.
The thing is, Richard D. James does not care all that much for your soul. It is too superficial for him. He goes straight to the elementary particles, and there is no better conductor for that artistic research than the art of music programming, which is, after all, in itself based on a harnessing of particle power. And on the Richard D. James Album, a surprisingly short, parsimonious venture, he has arguably reached the highest point of that harnessing.
The record is frequently classified as "drum 'n' bass", which, in the world of James, means only that the percussion programming has gone real crazy: the beats on 'Carn Marth' and 'To Cure A Weakling Child' are not just complex, they take pride in constantly shifting, reaching a culmination in the middle of the latter track where they can, indeed, only be described in terms of sub-atomic bombardment. On 'Yellow Calx', percussion ceases to be a rhythm basis altogether and alternates between a wild alien animal breaking out of its confinement, and a creaky iron bridge trembling against the wind, threatening to fall apart at any minute. And on 'Peek', the percussion plays the part of a master gamer blasting packs of spaceships from his vantage point. If anything, this kind of raging creativity begs to forget about labels like "drum 'n' bass" rather than remember them, in a vain attempt to pigeonhole the record.
Still, behind the sci-fi percussion, Aphex Twin still manages to imply the existence of spiritual currents. 'Goon Gumpas', for instance, has no beat at all, just a positive synth-harp melody and heavenly strings — there may even be a concealed nod to the Beach Boys' 'Wouldn't It Be Nice'. 'Girl/Boy Song' indicates that there might be elements of romance involved, and, indeed, more harps and chimes drive the song forward, along with such amusing touches as a single flute note, followed by a single bassoon note, never ever to reappear. There's your girl, there's your boy. The rest is deeply buried under twisted beats.
Despite a half-hour running length, the record packs more ideas than all of Selected Ambient Works put together. The creaky iron bridge of 'Yellow Calx', the spooky kiddie talk loops on 'Weakling Child', the whistles / spring bounce / church organ combo of 'Logon Rock Witch', the violin sentimentality of '4', things very rarely get boring. At the same time, it is also quite accessible, without any offensive experiments with ultrasounds, and with no elements of hardcore techno that could turn off those not entirely in awe of any forms of electronica. Still, the best way to enjoy it is on the sub-cellular level: you will know that the music has worked only once you have felt the atoms inside your brain ionized by these sounds.
Timidly hoping that the process does not cause carcinogenesis, my own brain says it is a thumbs up, even though the heart is predictably unaffected — despite moments that do approach conventional «beauty» on '4' and 'Goon Gumpas'. Probably, though, Richard would have been offended if we started pressing him for conventional beauty. We'll always have Cher for that.
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