A couple of weeks ago everything seemed to go into meltdown when it was revealed Warp Records were set to release the first new material by Richard D James – AKA The Aphex Twin – in many years. The news came on the back of a recent kickstart campaign that eventually saw the limited release of an album of material by another one of his guises, Caustic Window.
So it’s been a big year for the mostly publicity shy James. I say publicity shy but I don’t think that’s accurate. From the earliest days, going back more than twenty years ago now, he’s revelled not so much in playing the media game but reworking it for his own ends and entertainment. In some ways this is entirely fitting; he’s unusual, almost in a unique position for an electronic musician in that he has more or less transcended the confines of the scene. He was never Techno any more than he was House or Acid or anything else. He simply was. He did his own thing and seemed to sit back and watch as the myths accumulated.
And what myths they were. He lived on a cold war submarine; he gets all his ideas via the act of lucid dreaming; He’s actually a puppet worked by a consortium that includes Phil Collins and Steve Reich (OK, I made that one up). So successful has the mythology been that it has taken a life of its own, as witnessed on this thread over at Gearslutz.com which grows more and more bonkers with every entry. Then of course there is the famous, almost fetishistic, list of gear he is supposed to use, some basic, some utterly esoteric. In a recent interview for Rolling Stone he added to the mass of (dis)information with claims that he has five studios at home, and uses robots as part of his creative process….
None of that matters, of course. It never really did. It is all just a way of screwing with people. At heart, it has always simply been about the music, and there are very few artist who have managed as consistently fascinating output as Richard James.
The Polygon Window album, Surfing On Sine Waves First appeared in 1992 and played an important role in my own personal musical education. Every track on it brings new ideas to the table and each one managed to sound as vital as the one it follows. From Untitled, possibly the darkest, most unsettling Acid track ever written, to Supremacy II with its lightspeed break beats and ghostly samples from the Sound Of Music, the whole album is a seething, living blast of experimentalism pushed into a viciously functional framework.
If It Really Is Me, works wonders in its own quiet way. Surrounded by the storm of sound, it is almost a quiet moment of reflection. Except, being Richard D James, it is anything but. It is way the tune folds in, sounding like the intro of the theme music of ‘Jamie’s Magic Torch’ (if any of you are old enough to remember that,) and tugging on the emotions. The spiralling, reverberating piano, the simple horns, all minor chord, central European melancholia. But as the tune grows it moves beyond that, changing up a key and becoming more anxious, more energised as the claps flare against the main thread of the motif that is, in its own way, almost a classic House pattern that has been stripped back until there is little left but the core at the very heart of the emotion. How many tunes, do you think, pull of the trick of being beautiful yet harrowing? This does. It’s the soundtrack to travelling down deserted roads in the silent depths of a winter that will never end.