From the Archives: Aphex Twin – ‘Richard D. James’ reissued on vinyl

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…

APHEX TWIN
Richard D. James
Warp/Sire (2-62010-P)

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.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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