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When Aphex Twin’s last album came out, the world had just fallen apart. I’m not going to pretend that I remember October 2001 all that well, but drukQs probably suited the moment somewhat, a mixture of subtle melancholy and pure chaos. SYRO isn’t as ambitious as anything from Richard’s prime, but it’s still an Aphex Twin album through and through – intricate, unique, and almost organic, like a computer growing flesh.
Most of the album is ‘drummy’ Aphex, beats colliding and intertwining around some very ’90s-sounding synths. You probably couldn’t really **dance** to this, not without holding an exposed wire, nor could you fall into the kind of introspective trance that Selected Ambient Works Volume II brings on – but while it gets pretty messy, it never really gets scary, not as scary as Richard can go.
I’m struggling to write about it without referring to his other work, which is a shame. While each track is its own, the lack of vocals and general chaotic consistency between tracks means songs don’t really jump out at you. Opener ‘minipops 67 [120.2] (source field mix)’ starts with drums that propel urgency, but swiftly mellows itself out with pitch-shifted nonsense and a very comforting synth or four. No movement really stays around long enough to get comfortable, and no time signature present seems remotely playable, at least until the beautiful last track, ‘aisatsana ’, a hauntingly minimal piano piece, played of course by a robot-piano (when playing live, he swings it from the ceiling) rather than Richard himself.
According to his first interview in many years, robotic instruments feature on quite a large amount of the album, as he really likes the idea of taking computerised sounds out into the real world and back in again. Why sample a snare hit when you can make a robot hit a snare whenever you want?
SYRO is a worthy addition to the Aphex canon, and a whole lot of fun. With any luck, we’ll have Selected Ambient Works Volume III before the decade is out.