LATEST TWO-CD album from ageing boy genius shows hints of classical influence
EXASPERATING AT times, old Aphex Twin. He’s prolific, he’s claimed in the past to make music with the same natural compulsive ease and frequency as performing a bodily function. And yet sometimes you suspect him of not trying, of lacking a final push of intensity. From the jokey title and accompanying press notes to the rehashing of certain old Warp/Rephlex tricks (the jackhammer, the homemade random beat generator rhythms of ‘Vordhosbn’, the nonsensical, consonant-cluster track titles like ‘Bbydhyonchord’), there’s a feeling here at times that he’s going through his long-since patented motions, that his heart’s not quite in it. That’s why those people who said Radiohead were merely Aphex Twin copyists missed the point. Radiohead used these new electronica tools as a means to a dark end, to take themselves, and us, somewhere else. Aphex Twin too often sounds like he’s merely bashing out these noises for their own sake, pogoing, albeit at breakneck speed, on the spot.
Certainly, there are longueurs over these 30 tracks. We’ve been here many times before. The whiplash, ping-pong noise of ‘Omgyiya Switch’ juxtaposed with the cod-gamelan of ‘Jynweythek’, the rapid-fire Squarepusher-style transmogrifications of ‘Mt St-Michel’ followed by mellower, more mellifluous passages. All very fine but – how many more times?
No Aphex Twin album, however, is dispensable, and Drukqs is also unexceptional in this respect. There’s ‘Gwety Mermans’, with its rotorblade drone and distant, echoing piano motif. There’s ‘Gwarek 2’, which sounds like a piece of musique concrete from the Fifties Italian school. And there’s ‘Father’, the most successful of several efforts at Satie/John Cage pastiche here, whose strangely circular motions are reminiscent of the piano motif in the soundtrack to Powell/Pressburger’s A Matter Of Life And Death.
If there is a recurring preoccupation on this album, it’s of rummaging through the attic of childhood memories. One track is a tiny snatch of children’s voices, another consists of what sounds like a reel-to-reel tape recording of a Happy Birthday message, while ‘QKThr”s accordion drones are fuzzily redolent of the Twin’s home county of Cornwall. The effect is comforting yet eerie. Once this notion has taken hold, the album makes a bit more sense, and by the fadeout of ‘Nanou 2’ you’re actually regretting that it’s time to leave planet Aphex and return home. And so, in the end, he’s done just about enough. Yet you feel that if he were to get serious, run the risk of being po-faced even, he could do that much more…
© David Stubbs, Uncut, November 2001