October 10, 2012
I do feel it seems rather pointless to reissue music largely produced on computer via vinyl record. Vinyl is an analog medium, after all, and there is little nuance in digital work to merit a release in the format. However, one of the greatest works of the nineties electronic age had to be Aphex Twin’s “self-titled” album, Richard D. James. It was a thing of subtle, strange beauty, far beyond samples and electronic noises (see how well it was received).
Warp Records recently reissued the 1996 album by the one-man electronic music artist from the UK as a digital download (access previews and purchase them here). Nov. 26 will see a 180g vinyl reissue.
I still have the advance CD release Sire Records sent me to review ahead of the album’s original US release date. Below you will find what I turned in to either “Jam Entertainment News” or “Goldmine Magazine” (can’t remember who I even wrote this for!). I still stand by it (though, if I could, I’d tweak the language, but for the sake of posterity, I’ll allow my original text from 15 years ago stand). I’m glad to see this album has held up so well over the years…
Richard D. James
Aphex Twin’s latest release, Richard D. James, offers more of a listening experience than most monotonous, beat-driven ambient albums ever have; yet it still stays true to ambient’s definitive elements. Electronic beeps and whines, along with computerized jungle and break-beat rhythms are sill ubiquitous, but shifting melodies and animated instrumentation are at the forefront, adding new life to an ever evolving music genre.
Aphex Twin is actually a solo artist, whose real name happens to be Richard D. James. James had always been interested in electronics since he was a youth. A dropout from London’s Kingston Polytechnic, James turned his knowledge of circuitry into music in the mid-80s and has worked under such aliases as Polygon Window, Caustic Window, and GAK, among others. But James is best known for his work as Aphex Twin, having achieved number one indie status in Britain with his last release, and US major label debut on Elektra, I Care Because You Do.
Richard D. James is a departure from the grandiose arrangements and high concepts of I Care. James goes for a more intimate feel by mixing homemade electronic gear with organic instruments and adding vocals, making for one of the most charismatic albums the new ambient scene has yet to offer.
The album opens with an ethereal, electronic wash of strings, propelled by a beat that’s light but furious, all the while a shivering melody weaves along between the contradicting sounds. On two occasions the beat falters, and voices can be heard muttering in the background as if they’ve opened up the hood of a car to see what’s wrong, and the song kick starts again. As an opening track, “4” sets the mood of this human electronic work nicely, showing us that computerized music needs to stop and catch its breath once in awhile.
Opening with an analog hiss that rips into an effervescent electronic pile of melodies, “Fingerbib” abandons the superhuman rhythms with a decidedly archaic yet bountiful ambient tune that could have come out of the ‘70s. Speedy rhythms still prevail on most of the tracks, though, but other departures for Aphex Twin are in store. On “Milkman” and “Beetles” James sings. The lyrics don’t seem to say much (“I wish the milkman would deliver my milk/in the morning/I wish the milkman would deliver my milk/When I’m yawning”), but they actually carry some weight as minimalist concepts, conveying a deeper emotion, which might even impress followers of Brian Eno.
Maybe his claim that he hadn’t even begun listening to music until after he started creating his own seems far-fetched, but there is no denying the Richard D. James is an original. The subtle power behind his self-titled album cannot be denied. With it James can sway critics of soulless electronica, while still pleasing fans of ambient, trance and techno.
I make a brief reference to Aphex Twin’s prior album, 1995′s …I Care Because You Do. That will also see reissue by Warp (see here). Here are the mock-ups on vinyl:
I would also like to add a note on one of my favorite tracks off the album, which I only touched on in the original review, noting how it seems to harken back to the seventies. The reason I stated that “Finger Bib” could have come out of that era is not only due to its slower beat, but also that it specifically threw me back to a rare instrumental track by David Bowie, “A New Career In a New Town,” off his own masterpiece of an album, 1977′s Low. Both tunes have a bounding, hazy quality recalling the twilight of a new day. It’s a wonderful, mesmerizing moment that offers a nice downshift to the plethora of “breaking” beats that often appear on the album.
Richard D. James holds up better than ever in these days when computerized sound manipulation dominates much of the pop charts. I felt a bit ambivalent to a music termed IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) back in the early nineties, a genre defined by artists like Aphex Twin. Back then, I measured music against seventies art rock by people like Brian Eno, Cluster, David Bowie and King Crimson. Now, Aphex Twin is part of a music past of comparatively artistic proportions. These albums certainly merit a revisit on vinyl.
November 23, 2010
Today, Nov, 23, Churchill’s Pub and Dangerfun will host The Bends: A Radiohead Tribute. Several local bands will take the stage to play their favorite Radiohead tunes. Among them Andy Christ, Lindsaybell, Ian Michael, Rebel, Xela Zaid, boxwood, Triple Gem, Gonzo Danny, Jackie Ransom, Joikels, Johnny OneTwo,
BadAss (edit: BadAss has cancelled due to illness, I am told by Churchill’s. Eric Schwartz will fill in) and DJ Saul Good.
The doors open at 8 p.m., and the show begins at 9. Those below drinking age will need to give up $5 to get in, and anyone over 21 is expected to drink. Here’s Xela Zaid’s take on “Paranoid Android,” which I love, only because it sounds so distinctly Xela-esque– only he can make an acoustic guitar sound so luscious and noisy at once, but if any of the songs are going to be as loosely interpreted as this, drink might help:
I might make it out to the show. I do love me some Radiohead. Actually, they have come to be one of my all-time favorite bands but totally by surprise. I never thought I would be a Radiohead completist (as far as songs go– not formats– those people are crazy), but it turns out I have all their albums on vinyl, including the fancy version of In Rainbows pictured below.
To top it off, I recently completed my new Radiohead collection of deluxe editions (the double CD+DVD versions). I wound up with practically brand new sets of Kid A, Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief at reasonable used prices (just under $20 each thanks to wherehouse.com).
In the wake of these purchases, I had noticed an odd sort of backlash against the band, probably prompted by “Spin Magazine”’s Nov. 9, 2009 cover issue. “16 Rock Myths Debunked.” Well, here was the leading myth by Chris Norris:
Rock Myth No. 1: Radiohead Can Do No Wrong
Reality: Radiohead kinda blow
Now, I shan’t fault him for his view, nor all the others he invited onto his Radiohead haters bandwagon. His key argument is that they put him off because they behave so dang pretentious. I’ll admit the band seems to rationalize every release, looking for a purpose or reason to release an album. “So they’re a band, making records. Why all the newspeak? Does Radiohead’s every move have to be without precedent? Must they define a new music language?” he moans. Look, fine, I’ll go with that. A true artist will know humility and be happy with it. Yet, it does seem Radiohead strain to be vital with each and every release, sometimes quite self-consciously changing up their sound (most especially with Kid A and Amnesiac).
Whatever the rhetoric they may couch their logic for releasing an album, it does nothing to detract from how consistently interesting each of their releases have been since Pablo Honey in 1993. With every release, Radiohead has impressed me, but the band never won me over as a dedicated fan until Amnesiac. Now, don’t misinterpret that. As a college radio DJ, I was there in 1993 when the “Creep” single first made the rounds on college radio and later started appearing on heavy rotation on MTV’s alternative rock show “120 Minutes.” I also caught Radiohead live on Miami Beach opening up for Belly at the intimate Cameo Theater, where I also got Thom Yorke’s and Jonny Greenwood’s autographs*.
But I was a very casual fan then (my passion then was for Stereolab more than Radiohead. Ironically, I’m more interested in what Radiohead is currently doing than Stereolab). I went to their show with Belly only because the college radio station I worked for, Florida International University’s WUFI, then on 540 AM, had free tickets. I remember my date and I screaming “Lurgee” between songs, whenever we had the chance, as that was my favorite track on Pablo Honey. Still, they never played it that night. Even later on, when we clarified by yelling “I feel better,” the song’s opening line, Yorke just responded with “good for you.” Clearly, this is not the kind of guy who likes being told what to do or satisfy any expectations, even back then. After I met him and Greenwood, I asked Greenwood why they didn’t play “Lurgee,” he said, “I don’t why we didn’t play it. We usually do.”
Anyway, back then it was all just a freak encounter. I loved their layers of guitars, which back then sounded like an easier to digest My Bloody Valentine. It was all fun and interesting, but my interest in them was only casual. When it came to bands with layers of guitar noise, I preferred Kitchens of Distinction’s work (a more obscure band, I know, yet they did the lush layers of guitar noise as early as ’89) to Radiohead. Once again, I’m quite over the Kitchens’ now dated sounding work in comparison to Radiohead’s. In the meantime, Yorke became amused by the two pretty Miami girls hanging off him on either arm.
When OK Computer came out, critics began comparing Radiohead with Pink Floyd and Genesis and other prog rock artists of the early 70s. Probably most lazily due to the sound of the Mellotron on “Exit Music (For a Film)” and the lengthy, time-shifting “Paranoid Android,” which became an MTV hit at the time. I thought the Bends had been a strong follow-up to Pablo Honey for sure, and had bought that CD soon after its release. But OK Computer was the first of their albums to totally blow me away and feels like my favorite album.
Then came the two albums almost designed to push away the casual fan: Kid A and Amnesiac. I bought Kid A soon after its release. It was a curious departure as it melded the avant-dance-oriented break beats of Aphex Twin and rock. It wasn’t so much a new sound, as it harvested certain music schemes that came before it (it wasn’t too different from what Moby or even Brian Eno only a few years earlier). It wasn’t a perfect album, as only one song grabbed me immediately: “Morning Bell,” but it would casually grow on me over the years as amazingly atmospheric songs began to take shape like “Everything In Its Right Place” and “How to Disappear Completely.”
Then came a fateful trip on train, crossing the Czech Republic with a class from FIU, during my studies for a Master’s degree. It was an overcast day and the grassy countryside spotted with modest cottages zipped past my window. One student had offered to loan me his CD copy of Amnesiac, which I had not got around to buying, skeptical after Kid A‘s then seeming half-assed quality. Then, “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box” started up on its metallic beat. With my attention on the adventurous development of the song, as I stared out at the passing landscape, my love for Radiohead had solidified.
With every subsequent release, I was there as a fan, even if Hail to the Thief felt a little weak upon first listen. It did grow on me, much as Kid A had. Then came In Rainbows, which I downloaded for free from Radiohead’s website, since they said I could pay whatever I wanted. My experience with their prior albums merited that price. They would have to earn my appreciation and money. However, it only took a few listens before I knew I would pay more than $80 for the aforementioned deluxe version on two 45 rpm vinyl LPs in a hardbound case with fancy abstract art book and a bonus CD of outtakes, along with the CD of the album.
I have no regrets. I dare say In Rainbows, may finally be that Radiohead album that ideally melds their electro tendencies with guitar-oriented rock. It leaves me looking forward for the new album, which I hear they are close to finishing (see Greenwood’s post on their official site here).
*You’ll notice I handed Thom a notepad asking him a couple of questions, as my editor (a not-much-older faculty member) wanted me to write an article about the then rising trend of moshing (the small bits of research thankfully never amounted to anything more than this humorous autograph). It was noisy there in the alleyway outside the club, so I asked him just to fill it out. I saw that he signed it, so I just thought “what the heck” and handed the pad to Jonny, so he might autograph it. I now keep the autographs below the CD tray of my Pablo Honey CD, which I got for a few cents from the BMG club later on.