Aphex Twin Syro
“The problem with being avant-garde is knowing who’s putting on who,” said postmodern first-grader Calvin of the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes. Richard D. James might’ve asked himself the same question after years of building and often confounding a cult fanbase with his experimental forays into/amalgamations of techno, jungle and ambient music.
Syro, the first Aphex Twin studio album in 13 years, has James sounding less like the post-rave prankster of the 1990s and dyspeptic glitch collagist of 2001’s tire-spinning Drukqs, and more like an artist who has dispensed with the subversion and even effectively corralled his many impulses—a dominant one here being electro-funk. “XMAS_EVET10  [Thanaton3 Mix]”—the album’s de facto centerpiece at 10-plus minutes—might be as unpredictable as his most maddeningly wayward material, but repeated listens reveal a method, if not a narrative. Credit pronounced melodies (see “Minipops 67 [120.2][source field mix]”) and familiar synth atmospherics (the title track) in James’ ability to invite listeners while still challenging them.