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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Aphex Twin: 26 Mixes For Cash


CD I: 1) Time To Find Me [AFX Fast Mix]; 2) Raising The Titanic [Big Drum Mix]; 3) Journey [Aphex Twin Care Mix]; 4) Triachus [Mix by Aphex Twin]; 5) Heroes [Aphex Twin Remix]; 6) In The Glitter Part 2 [Aphex Twin Mix]; 7) Zeros And Ones [Aphex Twin Reconstruction #2]; 8) Ziggy [Aphex Twin Mix #1]; 9) Your Head My Voice [Voix Revirement]; 10) Change [Aph­ex Twin Mix #2]; 11) Une Femme N'Est Pas Un Homme [Aphex Twin Mix]; 12) The Beauty Of Being Numb Section B [Created by Aphex Twin]; 13) Let My Fish Loose [Aphex Twin Remix]; CD II: 1) Krieger [Aphex Twin Baldhu Mix]; 2) Deep In Velvet [Aphex Twin Turnips Mix]; 3) Falling Free [Aphex Twin Remix]; 4) We Have Arrived [Aphex Twin QQT Mix]; 5) At The Heart Of It All [Created by Aphex Twin]; 6) Flow Coma [Remix by AFX]; 7) Windowlicker [Acid Edit]; 8) Normal [Helston Flora Remix by AFX]; 9) SAW2 CD1 TRK2 [Original Mix]; 10) Mindstream [The Aphex Twin Remix]; 11) You Can't Hide Your Love [Hidden Love Mix]; 12) Spotlight [Aphex Twin Mix]; 13) Debase [Soft Palate].

Strictly speaking, I have every «legal» right to skip this 140-minute monster, since it is not a «proper» Aphex Twin or AFX album. Not only is this a compilation, with mixing dates running the entire length of James' official career, but only two of the tracks (the remixes of 'Window­licker' and 'SAW2') begin and end with Aphex Twin himself. The rest are exactly as advertised: remixes of works by other artists — for cash. (I'm assuming RDJ doesn't accept checks).

However, it doesn't take a serious expert to understand that an Aphex Twin remix is not just a re­mix. «Just a remix», at best, gives you a longer version of your favourite single with more oppor­tunities to shake it up, and, at worst, serves as money bait for frustrated completists, spending the­ir time hunting for rare Japanese 12" releases when they could have been researching stem cells instead. For Richard D. James, remixing is a major way of making a living, not so much in the fi­nancial sense as in the biological one. Like an evil parasite, he attaches himself to the original product, sucks out its organic matter and injects his own venom. Or larvae. Listening to this al­bum, especially if you are familiar with the original tracks, is the musical equivalent of walking through a parasitological museum (there actually is one in Tokyo, believe it or not).

I am not familiar with all of the originals, nor even with all of the artists, which range from real biggies like Nine Inch Nails and Meat Beat Manifesto to local celebrities like Nobukazu Takemu­ra to all sorts of techno and trip-hop bands and DJs that may or may not have been great in their heyday (actually, if you start penetrating the world of 1990s electronic music through the big names, 26 Mixes is some serious publicity for the smaller ones). The album may — and, at a cer­tain point, should — be enjoyed on its own, independent, terms, but, of course, comparisons with the raw material will also help unfurl the secrets of Aphex Twin's creative spirit. So it's 140 mi­nutes of offbeat pleasure per se, and then, if you want, 140 2 minutes of instructive similization for the sake of intelligence, coolness, and merciless timekilling.

The Twin's basic approach is «reconstruction» rather than «deconstruction». It is as if he took one or two listens to each selection, found one or two elements of it that he liked — a beat, a bassline, maybe even a vocal part — dissolved the rest in acid, then built his own dream castle around the salvaged bits. Just one example: Takemura's 'Let My Fish Loose', a dreamy ethno-jazzo-electro­nic «bal­lad», used to be a multi-layered recording, awash in tricky time signatures and flutes and funky keyboards and bits of Spanish guitar. Of all these things, James falls in love with one: the bassline, which is indeed a very groovy jazz bassline. So he makes it loud as hell, and everything else quietly hiding behind its back — but the annoying kiddie vocals he apparently hates, so he ends up distorting them, stretching, compressing, and dehumanizing at will. It's brilliant, since it is at the same time an exhortation of the track's strong points and a mean parody of its weak ones. (At least, that's how I see it at present — but I think it's an understanding that ties in well with the common idea of «Aphex Twin = The Evil Clown of Electronica»).

Some of the tracks can only be qualified as cruel (but deserving) jokes. Both David Bowie and Philip Glass, for instance, take a severe beating on the remix of the Glass-orchestrated version of 'Heroes', on top of which he dubs David's original vocals — as if asking us the question, «What the hell do these two people have to do with each other?» Clearly, nothing, as the abysmal audio effect will have you realize. 'You Can't Hide Your Love', a simplistic, sterile dance track from DMX Crew is sped up, stripped of the boring overlays that conceal its worthlessness, and turned into a dance fool's paradise.

Most of the time, though, the source material is simply used as a bare foundation to create more of that typically-Aphex music. Mescalinum United's 'We Have Arrived', as the name tells you, used to announce alien presence: a fast-paced, pompous «astral» march with huge beats and swo­oping keyboard waves to reflect macrocosmic proportions. All of that hugeness is being ripped out, and the tune is reinvented as a jarring, almost insufferable industrial slam, with alien beats now sounding as megaton sledgehammers and galactic waves replaced by the poisonous hiss of acid-corroded metal. Like I already noted, Aphex Twin's electronics normally dislikes stars, gala­xies, and other faraway places; he is more concerned about fractals, atoms, and quarks, whose worlds are really just as limitless in themselves as those of the stars and galaxies, and there is no better way to see this than to compare the original 'We Have Arrived' with his reworking.

Occasionally, the remixes serve to remind you that the man's own music is not entirely sourceless, either, and that there is no inseparable rift between the electronic revolution and whatever used to exist prior to that. The second track, for instance, sounds like a decent outtake from Ambient Works II with a loud drum rhythm attached — in reality, it is his reconstruction of Gavin Bryars' 'Sinking Of The Titanic' theme from 1969 (conveniently renamed 'Raising The Titanic'). And the album ends on an almost hippiesque note with a remix of 'Debase' from the Mike Flowers Pops, a retro band mostly known for an Oasis cover and contributing to the Austin Powers soundtrack.

It would be cheating — and somewhat unfair — to call 26 Mixes the Twin's «best» album, but one thing is certain: the diversity of approach and abundance of ideas make this the easiest 140 minutes in a row of his music that I have ever sat through. Think of it this way: no matter how prodigious the man is, it is pretty hard for one talented person to keep on releasing double CDs full of consistently successful music (especially electronic music); DrukQs demonstrated this in all clarity. On 26 Mixes, it is as if he enlisted the help of 26 friends — imagine it as a shot in the arm on the part of talented corporate songwriters — to aid with the basic skeletons. The result is simply one of those, I am not afraid to say, seminal albums that give Electronica a good name, helping to convert the skeptically minded who think that intelligence, diversity, and entertainment could not, in theory, peacefully co-exist on an electronic album. Thumbs up.

Check "26 Mixes For Cash" (CD) on Amazon


  1. Actually I think you can count this as a regular Aphex Twin album. I'm not knowledgeable about electronica, but the role that Aphex Twin is taking here (the mixer / programmer / producer / engineer / whatever) is actually the most important part about electronica records, so I think this is a spiritual equivalent of Bowie's "Pinups" or Macca's "Run Devil Run" - Aphex Twin's "cover album", if you so wish!

  2. About a third of the tracks on this album are Aphex Twin originals in all but name. "Zeroes and Ones" is probably the worst (best?) offender; the track has pretty much nothing to do with the original, save for a single distorted "Ahhh" vocal sample that could be from just about any song with "Ahhh" in it. In several songs he just takes one short riff from the original and loops it; in others he takes the main hook of the song and maybe mentions it for 10 seconds before doing something completely unrelated for 7 minutes. "Mixes" my foot. What a prankster. Clever album, but you have to be prepared to be punked.