After announcing his last full-length LP, 2014’s Syro, via the deep web and a green blimp flown over London, Aphex Twin once again caused much hype and speculation over a new album through another, equally elaborate marketing campaign. Anyone who is a fan of his, or reads pretty much any music blog, will have seen the mysterious 3D posters which appeared, seemingly overnight, in cities including Tokyo, Turin, London and New York. These, alongside some glitchy light projections throughout London and a cryptic press release from Warp Records turned out to be promoting the ‘Collapse’ EP. This is not the new album that some were predicting, but it’s 5 tracks and just over 30-minute duration provides more than enough to satisfy any Aphex fan. After the fairly low-key ‘Cheetah’ EP in 2016, this one brings us Richard D. James back at his most skilled, technical and bizarre.
The first track to drop from the EP was ‘T69 Collapse.’ A quick Google search revealed that a T69 is a type of tank, adding further fuel to the online rumor that James owns a tank and likes to drive it around his property in Wales. The track was originally scheduled to be released via Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim alongside a video from Weirdcore, but this broadcast was canceled after the video failed an epilepsy test. Despite my limited knowledge of epilepsy, after watching the video on youtube I can see why it’s failure was justified. Weirdcore, who has been helping Aphex Twin freak ravers out with live visuals since 2009, has created a piece which perfectly matches James’ sound. A fast-moving, colour-strobing 5 minutes that takes place in a sinister cyber-world but fitfully flashes back to the real world as if trapped in between the two. It is a futuristic clip that fits in perfectly with Aphex’ established aesthetic and has taken just enough inspiration from Chris Cunningham, but not too much, so that it feels fresh.
When it came to actually listening to the EP, I almost didn’t recognise ‘T69 Collapse’ (the first track) as I was so used to listening to it with the video playing. Without the intense visual stimulation to accompany it, I initially thought the track felt quite empty. However, after a couple of more listens I came to really appreciate it. It has a busy bassline and characteristically frantic drum patterns that feel pleasantly familiar and the synths have a really warm analog sound which reminded me more of Syro than any of his other releases. The track starts off relatively inoffensive and almost dream-like but has a sudden sinister breakdown of distorted kick drums and shrill synths halfway through. This breakdown really made the track for me as it sounded awesome but also revealed for the first time the more twisted side of Aphex Twin on the EP – it had me like “ahhh HERE he is!”.
‘1st 44’ is a straight-up drum track with precise and detailed drum programming. As the track goes on there seems to be a limitless amount of drum samples and patterns introduced and no two bars sound the same. Dub Sirens, stretched out vocals and vinyl scratching sounds act as a reference to the DnB/Jungle sound that James is associated with, without this being a rave track. The beats continue up until the 5-minute mark where everything dissolves into a huge cavernous reverb. This track is definitely interesting and fun to listen to, but feels more like a (hyper-advanced) drum jam than a proper track and does not have any moments that really stick in the mind. ‘MT1t29r2’ on the other hand, is the only track on the EP that has something resembling a ‘hook’. This takes form as a psychotic but recognisable bassline that I could see driving people mad during a live show. The track feels like a real journey taking place over multiple distinct phases, some bright and fun and some more mysterious sounding. I actually got some Crash Bandicoot vibes from certain parts.
‘Abundance’ is definitely the weakest track on the EP for me and it is a lot more chilled and serious than the other songs. While it has some cool sounds and nice melodies here and there, my main issue with the track was the drum programming. It just sounded a bit too stuttery and messy with rolling snares and toms layered over each other. However, this lull for me was made up for by the final track ‘pthex’, a classic Aphex Twin banger that sounds like it could have been made in the 90s. It has a manic acid bass reminding me of ‘Cock/ver10’ from the Drukqs album. Listening to this track, you can almost see endless lines of tracker software flashing through your mind. It’s frantic, high energy unpredictable programming keeps the mind active and guessing throughout.
While this EP is definitely a masterful piece of work, I do feel that it did lack something. Each track individually is engaging and enjoyable to listen to but overall it feels like none of them really stood out as being really great in the way tracks on previous EP’s did. Often while listening I actually didn’t notice when one track became the next. The ‘Come to Daddy’, ‘Girl/Boy’ and ‘Donkey Rhubarb’ EPs (to name a random few), all have songs that are really memorable and unique in ways that none of the tracks on this EP are. I feel that any Aphex Twin fan will enjoy this EP but it’s unlikely to become a favourite and I’m not sure it will expand the Aphex Twin fanbase. At this level of artistic maturity, though, gaining new fans and writing catchy tracks is unlikely to be a big priority for Richard D. James.
When Syro dropped, James announced that he would not be doing any more shows. Pressed on this in a Rolling Stone interview he said “No, no. I’ve just done it too many times. I mean, I might get weak if someone offers me a stupid money gig”. On November 1st he will grace Funkhaus’ Shedhalle and tickets were a handsome €69.50, so it seems he has been weakened. Price aside, this is his first show in Berlin in 15 years and is bound to be something very special (for those who were lucky enough to get a ticket in time).