Aphex Twin’s seven most pivotal tracks
The wise men came to us and said, “where is he that is born the King of IDM? For we have seen the yellow blimp in the East, and have come to worship him.”
And they said unto him, “In Cornwall of England: for it is written by the prophet that he shall be born on the thirteenth day of the eighth moon. For out of thee, shall come a Producer that shall be King of the Dance.”
The electronic coming of Jesus is here, and it’s His birthday. Well he might as well be Jesus, the guy sleeps only two or three hours a night, lives in a converted bank under Elephant and Castle and owns a tank. You heard me, a tank. Did I mention he’s 44 and has two kids?
To celebrate the occasion, Crack has compiled a list of Richard James’ seven most pivotal tracks.
Untitled (Rhubarb) from Selected Ambient Works Volume II (1994)
If the afterlife exists, this is how I’d imagine it to sound. This is minimalism at its finest; stunning shades of sound ripple and sink, giving rise to a light persistent hum that shades the rest of the track. Somewhere in between Boards of Canada and Brian Eno lies the track’s stunning refrain, yet it manages to avoid the scarf-clad pretentiousness commonly associated with ambient music.
There’s an honesty to the piece, an opulence in the string composition that takes you straight back to a time of bike rides and birthday parties, and by 3.16, I’ve found the answer to happiness. Even the title Rhubarb is reminiscent of a simpler, better time. There’s a detached quality that conveys a fine appreciation of everything and everyone around you, while also making you feel completely isolated – though weirdly, I’m okay with that.
Bucephalus Bouncing Ball from Come To Daddy EP (1997)
The ghost in the machine is whirring and it’s in the shape of an acid-ridden Analord polysynth. Bucephalus Bouncing Ball begins with what I’d like to imagine is a little kid absolutely smashing it on a drum kit made up entirely of kitchen utensils.
When you add to it the tuneful progression of parping bass and creaking cogs, the journey becomes all the more magical. This is breakbit at its most stereophonically relentless. Luke Vibert may have invented drill and bass but this is RJ at his whirrin’ finest and a ginormous ‘fuck you’ to anyone who thinks otherwise.
Windowlicker from Windowlicker (1999)
It’s undeniable that Richard James’ songs take you on a journey – albeit at times, strange and creepy one. Windowlicker is Warp’s most popular song to date, and it’s not difficult to see why. Few can rival the glitchy breakbit excellence of RJ’s sound, and when you add to it the beeline vocals and richly textured samples, it gets all the bit more magical.
There is an underlying confidence to it; the assertive slap of the 4/4 drum, the naughty noises and playful humming all give way to the a distorted, dirty climax that leaves you wanting to let loose, get those vegetables shakin’ and get down and weird with some ladybots.
'Avril 14th' from Drukqs (2001)
Avril 14th is an example of compositional simplicity at its most beautiful and effective. The refrain is both humble and unasserting, and therein lies its beauty. Stunning piano arrangement rings coyly in the ears of the listener and suddenly, for a discrete moment, the man in the iron bank becomes strangely human and accessible.
Even the track title imposes a sort of personal importance: what happened on Avril 14th? Why is it important? With its gentle and catchy tune and soundtrack narrative, Avril 14th is clearly RJ’s attempt at popular music, and oh how he succeeds.
Come to Daddy from Come to Daddy (1997)
The first time I watched this video, I was three years old, in my family home in Bedford, and it’s safe to say, Richard James’ face shall forever be ingrained in my infant mind. If Untitled (Rhubarb) is my answer to happiness, Come to Daddy is its antithesis. The track is the musical equivalent to chaos, with its nihilistic imagery and death metal jingle, it’s not a surprise to hear the council estate used in the video is none other than the same location used by Stanley Kubrick in the filming of A Clockwork Orange.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is some spoogy shit. If you thought Flylo’s Duality was bad, then this gets hella worse. Rows and rows of Aphex-faced children file menacingly with one intention only – to fuck shit up – and although this is not one of RJ’s technically finer pieces, something that has had a cult following for over 15 years is worth noting.
'Untitled (Lichin)' from Selected Ambient Works Volume II (1994)
If Brian Eno is the father of ambient music, then Aphex is its slightly more erratic uncle. Stuck between the fragility of Discreet Music and opulence of An Ending lies the undeniable beauty that is Lichen. Though cut from an apparently similar cloth, the latter is not identical to the former. Eno’s music has a detached quality which lets the listener escape from their own mind, whereas James takes that detachment and runs with it into a position of subjectivity.
Lichen is a romantic expression of sonic and semantic harmony – indeed, the definition of lichen is an organism that lives among fungus in a symbiotic relationship. Through exquisite string arrangement and delicate wind percussion lies a phenomenological transparency which enables you to observe your emotions from an neutral standpoint. It is this there-but-not quality which makes this song so universally accessible.
CIRCLONT14 (Shrymoming Mix)' from SYRO (2014)
When Syro came out, the word paused as they awaited the long anticipated second coming of what seemed to be the electronic Jesus. But just like Jesus, RJ didn’t come to reinvent himself or prove himself to others; instead, he came to show that no matter who else there was, he was fucking great. CIRCLONT14 twists and churns through robotic gargles and squelchy bass into what appears to be nothing less than a technical masterpiece.
A constant flux of speed and texture that is reminiscent of a freeform Squarepusher, leaves you questioning whether you’ve been violated or blessed, and if you already thought James’ tracks impossible to dance to then don’t stop here because these woozy wub-wub beats leave you with one thing that cannot be denied – oh yes, Daddy’s back.