Some Essential Listening choices are harder than others, but few artists have presented us with more of a challenge than this one. Having operated for a quarter of a century without any significant dips in form, Richard D James aka Aphex Twin is rightly revered as one of the most extraordinary electronic musicians of all time. Backed by an arsenal of hundreds of genre-defying, groundbreaking releases, Aphex Twin has cut a mysterious figure whilst releasing under a variety of different aliases, and could provide a fresh list such as ours fifty times over without any noticeable reduction in quality. Drawing from the experimental outskirts of techno, drum and bass, garage and any UK bass sounds that can be twisted as he sees fit, Aphex Twin’s output is enthralling without exception, and it was both a great pleasure and extremely difficult task to choose just five to present in this feature. Here’s what we settled on this time round.
An education in freaky dance music, Windowlicker starts at off-kilter electronic bleeps and finishes with wall of sound guitars, passing through a myriad of glitchy vocals and breakbeats en route. Weird throughout with an undeniable catchiness despite its impossible to follow eccentricity, the track is one of the most recognisable pieces in electronic music and perfectly illustrates the innovation that has made James such a revered musician.
You’re really missing out if you haven’t explored Selected Ambient Works 85-92 in full, but here’s your entrance point if you have yet to dive into its soft-padded pools of beautiful melodies and background rhythms. The first track on a truly alien album, “Xtal” is a gateway to another realm entirely.
Any of the tracks off of SAW 85-92 could have justifiably made the list, but this one got the nod because it just seems to hit the spot. Middle of the rave synths and some breaks-influenced percussion make “Ptolemy” one of the least ambient tracks on the album, but that’s not a problem when it sounds like this.
If you’re to really think about the ‘essential’ tag, then this one fits the bill on a technicality - if you haven’t heard it then you haven’t listened to 2014 album Syro in full, and that is certainly an error that needs correcting. Acting as the LP’s closer, the atmospheric piano of “Asiatsana” is a peaceful point of reflection for an album that received outrageous hype and somehow still managed to catch people off guard with the predictably unpredictable tunes. For further reading see the similarly emotive piano track “Avril 14th”, off of Drukqs.
Considering the breadth of music that he has to offer, it might be disingenuous that we’ve leaned heavily towards James’ more melody-centric tracks here, but then with the likes of “Alberto Balsam” in his back catalogue it’s hard not to. This one just pips “Flim” and “Blue Calx” into the fifth spot, but ask us again tomorrow and either could easily find a place on this list.
Aphex Twin will be making a first UK headline show appearance for several years when he takes to the new stage at Field Day on Saturday 3rd June. The booking all but guarantees the one-day festival will be an occasion of colossal magnitude as it takes to Victoria Park in London next summer.
Photo courtesy of Aphex Twin