It’s been a while since the fabled Richard D James released his last studio album ‘Drukqs’ in 2001. For that reason it’s understandable why everyone was beyond excited by the appearance of an esoteric blimp, bearing the Aphex Twin symbol above London on August 16th. Following this, the familiar emblem started to appear throughout New York and London and finally ‘Syro’ was announced for release via Tor - the deep dark web.
The artwork created by the Designer’s Republic (also revealed through the Tor link) brags minimalism, it teased with a smirking ambiguity and pushed followers further over the edge. To round it off, a lottery was promised for 200 limited box set versions of the LP, and album listening parties were scheduled across UK record shops before the release date. It was great.
The usual sporadic sections still exist in parts of 'Syro', but they seem less harsh than they have done in the past, giving the album a smoother feel somewhere between that of ‘Come to Daddy’ and ‘I Care Because You Do’. That’s not to say James’ new release is entirely ‘ambient’ - at times the punchy and even funky synth lines shown in ‘Syro' U473t8te’ and ‘XMAS_EVET10’ seem to be uncharacteristically melodic, at least to a level where they could drop at 3AM without turning too many heads.
'Syro' offers more (formerly known as) ‘dance’ tracks than previous Aphex Twin releases. In ‘180db_’ a repeated dirty riff along and a steady pulsing bass dominates, which could easily be mixed into a popular acid house mix (potential contradiction in terms). ‘Syro U473t8te’ is probably the defining track of the album. Mysterious vocal samples mingle with snappy, manipulated synths whilst keeping an ambient undercurrent. It’s recognisably Aphex, but its new, different and it’s massively exciting.
It goes without saying that the beats throughout 'Syro' are as inventive and glitchy as ever and, like before, this album will inevitably inspire drum lines across all areas of dance music. The positively inconsistent nature of the percussion that James creates fits beautifully with the ambient yet punchy funk that seems characteristic of 'Syro'.
Typical of James, vocal sections pop up throughout the whole album – always arriving distorted and hard to distinguish. Some familiar vocal mashes induce ‘Rubber Johnny’ déjà vu. The most interesting appears during ‘produk 29’, in which an ominous tone surrounds a relatively clear sample of an up-talking gossip girl. She moans: ‘Like we were at that club’ / ‘disgusting fucking whore’, and it could be a clip from ‘Made In Chelsea’ or any other over-saturated hashtag asylums. There’s something playful and refreshing about James wanting to make that culture sound as grim as it possibly can.
'Syro' obviously takes a leaf from past albums, probably because some of its tracks have been in James’ much-mythologised back catalogue for some time. But whilst this is true, the album is different where it matters, and still keeps a sense of identity. With its interesting theme, innovation and novelty 'Syro' lives up to expectations and should keep everyone happy. What started as a riddle of the dungeons of cyberspace can now stand amongst the Aphex Twin catalogue. The album closes gracefully, presumably played using a mechanical acoustic piano similar to that used for ‘Nanao 2’ or ‘Avril 14th’. It allows beautiful and inhuman key combinations to be played, majestically bringing the album to an emotive end. A glimpse of humanity breaking through the mainframe disorder.
Words: Lawrence Bull