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Aphex Twin’s ‘Blackbox Life Recorder’: EP Review



Anytime Aphex Twin releases new music underneath any of his many monikers, I’m reminded of the tag line for the Beastie Boys’ 2004 album, “To the 5 Boroughs:” “The hiatus is back off, again.” In an much more excessive disappearing act than the one the hip-hop trio would carry out in between initiatives, artist and digital pioneer Richard D. James at all times appeared to cease present altogether, vanishing for years right into a Glaswegian cavern, surrounded by units fabricated or reinvented by himself — solely to emerge with one thing new and large as a proof of life.

Preceded by the marginally extra surprising announcement of a sequence of European tour dates, James’ newest EP of unique materials unceremoniously publicizes after 5 years that certainly, the hiatus is again off, once more. Clocking in at simply shy of quarter-hour (together with a remix of the lead observe), “Blackbox Life Recorder 21f / in a room7 F760” is disappointingly slight — absolutely he was cranking out sufficient tunes in his dungeon through the pandemic for a brand new album? But its arrival is a consolation, providing sounds that can ring acquainted to longtime followers — and to everybody else function an atmospheric Rorschach take a look at, alternately primitive and futuristic, stunning and menacing, propulsive and ethereal.

The final time James actually tweaked the Aphex Twin system (at its core, already an ongoing tweaking of acid home, drum & bass, proto-dubstep and ambient music) was most likely 2015, when he launched “Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2,” whose identify dispassionately particulars its juxtaposition of digital and acoustic instrumentation. (For the reason that days of “Avril 14” from “Drukqs,” he has principally deserted correct titles for file names that reference the gear used to file every observe, and the numbered model he settles on a “final.”) These new songs, like these on its 2018 predecessor “Collapse,” really feel like an encapsulation — perhaps a clearinghouse — of the varied kinds and subgenres he’s explored for the reason that starting of his profession, which is probably going why listeners will both instantly be into them, or not, upon first pay attention.

To wit: “Blackbox Life Recorder 21f” kicks off with a drum-snare mixture that sounds prefer it got here from a Eighties Casio keyboard, nominally extra refined than a studio click on observe, after which James surprises you with a welcoming ambient tone and a cavernous bass drum that makes it sound like a rave that broke out throughout a spelunking expedition. His capability for creative mixtures, acquainted although they’ve change into to his repertoire, retains the songs fascinating, including layers of breakbeats and squiggles of melody like he does on the opener that deepen their emotion. By the point he drops the percussion altogether after two and half minutes to highlight tones that may have felt at house on his Eno-esque 1994 album “Selected Ambient Works Volume II,” James totally commandeers the house between his listener’s ears, creating one thing that’s not simply “cinematic” however meditative.

“zin2 test5” additional dances on that razor’s edge between the acid home of his early singles (and later “Analord” sequence) and the damaged trip-hop of 1995’s “…I Care Because You Do,” switching between sinewy breaks and bumping four-four passages. Other than the observe’s brevity, his shifts from one rhythm sample to the opposite appear exactly paced to maintain the listener engaged, if not comfy — a ploy to make them need extra, or just react as soon as the groove they’re settling into recedes. However it additionally appears clear that he’s simply attempting to maintain himself ; it could seem that the period of the 12-minute droning observe is over. And greater than staving off boredom, switching issues up a number of occasions over the course of two minutes and thirty seconds makes these tracks, and because of this the entire EP, really feel longer.

Extra complicated (or difficult, a minimum of) than his “Classics” materials, “in a room7 F760” instantly conjures the melodrama of his 1992 single “Polynomial-C,” beginning with a feverish sample of drums after which including cowbell and quite a lot of synthesizer textures. Although he’s clearly trustworthy to the identical gear (a lot of which he reportedly designs or builds himself), he makes use of it like a libertine, making a symphony of sounds within the span of three or 4 minutes: in a single second, the shallow metallic sound of ‘80s synths like the Fairlight and Synclavier, in others the disembodied ambience of Eno’s beloved DX7, mashed collectively over pressing, shuffling percussion.

James’ “Parallax Mix” of “Blackbox Life Recorder 22” takes the unique observe’s temper in a distinct course — extra the house of Abigail Mead’s ominous, introspective themes for “Full Metal Jacket” than, say, the dystopian way forward for Vangelis’ rating for “Blade Runner” — making it much less danceable, as a lot as Aphex Twin’s music has actually been within the final twenty years. However like the remainder of these tracks, their look on a dancefloor can be a welcome shock, even amidst extra typical, crowd-pleasing materials, exactly due to their particular manipulation of a psychological headspace in live performance with the bodily one. As a result of with Aphex Twin, listeners are form of compelled right into a state of emotional synesthesia: they hear the music, however are proven (or given) emotions.

That feels rarer than ever in a style designed for shifting, and infrequently fueled by managed substances. “Blackbox Life Recorder 21f / in a room7 F760” gained’t trigger a nasty journey, however actually a extra difficult one. However for nevertheless lengthy Aphex Twin’s hiatus is off, each observe launched feels just like the continuation of a journey that’s one way or the other predictable to those that know the trail from earlier than, and in addition surprising — so it’s just a little scary, however you’re grateful to be on it.

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